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SHERRARD — Agriculture students at Sherrard High School are learning more than the basics of planting and harvesting in their outdoor classroom. They are learning how to make an impact in the community with the crops they cultivate.

Each week, ag classes pick nearly 200 pounds of produce that they then deliver to local food pantries in Sherrard, Milan and Preemption.

Ag Instructor Bill Hammes said they hoped to donate more than 3,000 pounds over the course of the season from the modest quarter-acre garden plot. That would exceed last year's donations by around 1,000 pounds. This is the third year for the community garden.

“It’s really a collaborative effort,” Hammes said.

Students planted the garden last school year, FFA members took care of it during the summer, and now they get to see the fruit of their labor, in more ways than one.

Seniors Avery Litton, FFA secretary, and Julia Besold, FFA sentinel, delivered last week's haul.

“The last time I went to the food pantry in Milan, over the summer, it was honestly really sad — seeing all the need in our community. It really broke my heart, seeing that it’s like that here. ... I wouldn’t think that it would be,” Litton said.

Last week's haul included hot and sweet peppers, sweet corn, cucumbers, potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes.

The garden is funded through various fundraisers, grants and corn harvested from the program’s test plots.

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“The community supports us so well; we try to think of ways to give back,” Hammes said.

Last year the group did a clothing drive to benefit the school's Tiger Closet — where students can find gently-used items and toiletry needs.

Currently, they are in the process of planning a fundraiser to benefit a suicide-prevention program in honor of Alyn Hall, a junior who fell victim to suicide last year. They plan to hold a bags tournament and other fall-related activities before the homecoming game, Sept. 27.

Each of Hammes’ agriculture classes picks once a week and will continue to do so until the first "killing frost" usually in October.

Sherrard FFA is also sponsoring the purchase of four grain safety tubes for fire departments in Sherrard, Coyne Center, Matherville and New Windsor (Viola's fire department already purchased one) for a total cost between $10,000 and $12,500, including training.

“(It’s) a thing that goes down around them, suctions the corn, so they can get out safely,” Litton explained. “In our community there’s only one — all the fire departments share — that’s obviously not good because if someone falls in far away, then they can’t get to them in time.”

Local farmer Albert Cederstrom contributed $2,500 through America’s Farmers Grow Communities, sponsored by the Bayer Fund.

Sherrard FFA students meet regularly to look for ways to contribute to the community.

“It’s really nice being able to help people and support our community,” Litton said.

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