Community pitches in to help give chapter's teaching lab long-needed repairs, restoration

By PATTY MAMULA

For the Capital Press

CLACKAMAS, Ore. -- An energetic crowd of FFA volunteers, students and adults joined forces to spruce up the historic barn that serves as a teaching lab for the North Clackamas School District.

The former dairy barn, built in the 1800s, is the most visible centerpiece of the district's agricultural education center, a farm in the heart of suburbia. The project was part of an ongoing partnership between Campbell's Soup Co. and the national FFA Alumni Association.

Lucy Whitehead, FFA Alumni project coordinator, said, "Campbell's was looking for a partner for its 'Help Grow Your Soup' campaign. Our organization stepped up to work with them on projects to educate our communities about where their food comes from. We picked the icon of the barn because of its visibility."

Whitehead said five barns were selected for restoration this year -- in Illinois, Tennessee, Kansas, Oregon and New York. "This is the only one that's also a teaching lab."

Students, volunteers, teachers, advisers, FFA alumni from the local and national chapters and other community members came out to help.

Preparation for the project started last fall with a dedicated crew of five to six couples, said FFA alumna Shauna McReynolds. More than 170 students were involved with a core group of 15-20 at work sessions.

Alixis Hudson, a senior at Clackamas High School, served as student publicity coordinator, which became the foundation for her senior class project.

"I worked with the FFA contacts to get media information out, coordinated volunteers and was a student ambassador to different community groups," she said.

Hudson said the most difficult part of the job was simply establishing her responsibilities. The experience has encouraged her to consider a college degree in agricultural communications, she said.

Kathy Mayfield, who teaches agricultural science at the center, said, "This program makes learning real." Since she started teaching at Clackamas High nine years ago, the number of kids involved has grown from 110 to 250.

"The facility is what makes this work," she said. "The students are on a working farm in the middle of an urban area."

The students in the program take classes at the center and receive college credit, Mayfield said. "All our students are FFA members. I think it's important. We have 100 percent membership."

Many of the students show at county fairs, and last year four different teams won state competitions.

"They're all city kids who keep their animals here," Mayfield said. "We have beef cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, fish in addition to greenhouses and gardens."

The barn restorations generally involve new paint and other cosmetic improvements, Whitehead said. For the Clackamas barn, organizers were able to parlay a $5,000 grant into more than $20,000 of donated materials.

They decided to take advantage of the project to tackle some long-standing repair needs.

For instance, crews installed all new windows, replaced rotten wood in the exterior walls, built a hayloft extension to provide better access, added a new loading ramp and storage rack for panels, put in new drain lines and installed new doors that were built by students in the building trade program and new weathervanes that were made by students in the manufacturing program.

Valspar donated the paint, and the barn was thoroughly covered with three coats of the Campbell's red color.

Whitehead said Campbell's gave the national FFA Alumni organization $225,000 for the national program.

"Aside from money for materials, the larger budget is parceled out for a variety of promotions," she said. "We always budget a definite amount to give for recognition of students."

She said that for each project, Campbell's gives two scholarships to the Washington Leadership Conference, a one-week FFA summer conference in Washington, D.C., paying for registration fees, lodging and meals.

Whitehead said, "We give the scholarships to the teachers and let them decide who should receive them."

Part of the recognition budget also goes for gift certificates to use on FFA merchandise, which helps local chapters purchase the trademark blue jackets. Scholarship are also given to alumni to attend adult leadership conferences.

Everyone who participated wore one of the student-designed T-shirts with the slogan "Restoring the Past, Preserving the Future."

Freelance writer Patty Mamula is based in Portland. E-mail: pattymamula@earthlink.net .

    

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