PALMER — The Palmer High School Future Farmers of Alaska plant sale and open house May 10-11 helped raise money for the agriculture department at Palmer High School by selling plants that were grown with love.
“They’re grown with love,” said PHS agriculture teacher Codey Beus. “That’s the key, science and love.”
Gardeners gathered at the plant sale to get their hands on vegetable starts, hanging flower baskets and fruit trees and were also able to take a look back in time. Scrapbooks with pictures from the 40-year history of agriculture education and FFA at Palmer High School were displayed on a desk at the entrance to the greenhouse. Agriculture students delivered trees into truck beds and got valuable workplace experience while helping to raise money to go to the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“I went to the state convention a couple weeks ago. It was pretty fun so I’m hoping to raise money to go to the national convention that’s in a couple months,” said Dane Harmon.
Harmon grew up with farm animals in Palmer and says that he enjoys gardening with his grandmother and great grandmother. Harmon attends Mat-Su Career and Technical High School, but joined the FFA club a Palmer High.
The Palmer agriculture department was awarded two grants that they will get to utilize new technology to help monitor. They received a grant from the Alaska Farm Bureau to grow berries and a grant from the Alaska Division of Forestry through the United States Department of Agriculture to put in a new orchard.
“The open house will also feature technology developed by Microsoft that tracks environmental data that helps agriculturists make better use of resources. Students learn programming and coding in an effort to create applicable data gathering systems that can be used in the greenhouse and school farm,” Beus wrote in an email.
The berries and apples from the new landscape will also go to the culinary arts program and help supplement school lunches. The students will develop products from the harvest and learn about plant care and growth through the harvest process.
“We really do want it to be visible to the community and accessible to the community,” Beus said.
Current and former members of Palmer FFA were prevalent at the plant sale. Lyssa Frohling, who grew up in a Palmer farm family and works for the Division of Agriculture stopped by to pick up arugula, peas, and cauliflower plants.
“I think it is a really really wonderful program and I’m very very happy that this is something that I can support. It’s really fun to have young kids involved in agriculture,” Frohling said.
Beus is new to the Palmer ag program this year. He and Corinne Henderson have taken over for longtime agriculture education teacher Don Berberich. Beus was awarded the “Teacher Turn the Key” award by FFA this year recognizing excellence in new agriculture educators. Beus has a background in farming on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat-Su. Henderson is also a Peninsula product, serving as a state officer in Homer during her time in the FFA program in high school. Beus said that the balance of multiple disciplines like science, entrepreneurship and leadership give students an ability to get applied learning.
“I just love how stem we are,” Beus said. “They just get a sense of ownership too, and when you reach a kid that maybe the traditional core classes aren’t their thing, but yet they come here and they get a spark and they see why all those core classes are necessary and really that they are good that’s a big win for us.”
Early in the afternoon on Friday, the plant sale was abuzz with green thumbs young and old looking to add to their gardens. While the Palmer ag program is entering its fourth decade, Beus is astounded at the community response to agriculture education.
“I’m always blown away by Palmer’s support from the community and the surrounding area but this is way more than I imagined it to be, which is good for sales and good for the students,” Beus said.