May 2017
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: H.O.P.E.

A collaborative program between Shelby County High School and a local restaurant brings delicious herbs and special opportunities for students to the table.

 

Students at Shelby County High School prepare herb and vegetable gardens where they will plant the produce to be used in Tazikis Café.

Do you ever wonder where your food comes from or why more restaurants don’t serve local products? For the Shelby County High School FFA that question is already answered when taking a seat at Tazikis Mediterranean Café, a popular restaurant. The FFA and the Shelby County High School Special Education program grow a variety of herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary and cilantro that are sold to Tazikis. The partnership between Shelby County High School and Tazikis is called HOPE, Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment. The program began two years ago, and now it is an integral part of our program that continues to expand.

Through our collaboration with our special education students, we plant, harvest, weigh, bag and deliver the herbs to Tazikis. We also handle the invoicing and billing for all herbs sold. All of the money earned is used to improve the classroom and curriculum for both programs. Any leftover herbs are sold to local businesses and sometimes used in our very own lunchroom!

We have learned many valuable skills through the HOPE project; life skills that will continue to help us. Through HOPE, some students are employed during the summer months to keep the educational business running.

Our FFA is grateful for the opportunity to work with the special education students, teaching them skills we have learned through agricultural class such as propagating, transplanting and harvesting herbs. This project has been a great experience for everyone involved and has helped many students decide on a career path.

Keith Richards is the owner of Tazikis Mediterranean Café and founder of HOPE, Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment.

 

This past November, we hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for our greenhouse! Our students and advisor built the greenhouse, located on campus. Keith Richards, owner of Tazikis and upcoming keynote speaker at this year’s FFA State Convention, came to the event to help us celebrate our new greenhouse.

"HOPE may have started in Shelby County, but HOPE gardens are quickly growing across the nation," Richards stated. "The program recently expanded to Nashville and partnered with Fairview High School."

This project would never have been possible without the donations from the Shelby County Farmers Federation, Shelby County Cattlemen’s Association, CAWACO RC&D, Novalla Club, Shelby County Juvenile Court and the City of Columbiana. Shelby County Career and Technical Education is also a major contributor to this collaboration. It is what keeps our agriscience program supported through funding and community outreach.

Since the completion of our greenhouse, we have been able to expand our program. We are now growing some of the herbs through aquaponics, a system where fish waste is used as nutrients by the plants, and, in return, the plants clean the water for the fish. We will be harvesting the tilapia fish as well.

HOPE at Shelby County High School would never have come to fruition without the help of our teachers and mentors: Dustin Cleckler, agriscience teacher/FFA advisor; Soli Lilly; Randall Reeves, special education teacher; and Cindy Vincent, Shelby County schools career coach.

The growth of our program has attracted visitors from various schools around the Southeast. Many of them hear about the project, visit our school and return to their campus to start their own program. Every time we meet with other school leaders, we are inspired to grow our program and are anxious to see it spread nationwide. HOPE already has an impact on the Birmingham metropolitan area, and we are HOPEful it will continue for years to come.

There are seven high schools in our county system and only three of those have an agriculture program. Therefore, HOPE is another reason why everyone involved is so grateful for this program and experience.

 

Bradi Masters is president and Dana Horton is reporter of Shelby County High School FFA Chapter.