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Students grow crops, global friendships

ADAIR VILLAGE — Peek inside the greenhouse at Santiam Christian High School and it is evident instructor Amy Krahn and her ag students and FFA chapter members know how to make things grow.

But in addition to the eight raised beds overflowing with lush green produce of all kinds and dozens of overhead baskets filled with flowers, perhaps the most important thing growing in this greenhouse are international friendships that will last a lifetime.

Krahn’s first-period horticulture class is composed of visiting students from Germany, China, Japan and Korea. All of them said they are enjoying getting their hands dirty, and for most, it is the first time they have ever planted a seed, but they are also sharing the experience and will take their memories around the world when they return home.

Friday morning L.R. Burns, a freshman from Crabtree, was joined by Alex Solomon, 16, a sophomore from Germany, Ellen Qian, 17, a senior from China, Kaede Kanesugi, 16, a sophomore from Japan and Daniel Park, 15, a freshman from South Korea.

When Krahn became the ag instructor and FFA adviser at the private Christian school last fall, she inherited a program with just three FFA chapter members.

Today, there are 65 FFA members and her goal is to see 80 percent of the school’s 300-member student body involved in agriculture or shop classes within five years.

Santiam Christian is the only private school in Oregon and one of only four in the United States that offers ag classes and hosts an FFA chapter.

“It takes a lot of enthusiasm encouragement,” Krahn said. “There had been four instructors in four years. But for me, this is my ideal job. I love it.”

During the first period of each class day, members of her horticulture class tend the school’s 30-foot by 90-foot greenhouse, which provide 5-gallon bucket loads of greens every day for the school’s lunch program.

It is a prime example of a “farm to table” program, where the produce is on the serving table only minutes after being harvested.

Alex Solomon is excited that when he returns home to Frankfurt, Germany, he will be able to share his new gardening skills with his mother.

“My mother likes to garden and I was never interested,” said Alex who is fluent in the English language. “Now, I really enjoy working with my hands, planting the seeds and cutting the lettuce and other crops.”

Alex said that in Germany, education is geared toward professional jobs, so he sees the ag experience as a bonus to take home with him.

The greenhouse — which is immaculately clean — contains eight large concrete block raised beds that are overflowing with plants such as spinach, red and green leaf lettuce, arugula, kale, a gourmet/mesclun mix, bok choy and butter crunch, romaine, red snail and summer bib lettuce.

Herbs grown by the horticultural students are also used by other students in the school’s “Foods and Nutrition” class, which includes learning how to cook with fresh ingredients.

Currently, any food scraps are fed to chickens, but Krahn said a $2,500 grant from the FFA foundation will be used as seed money to build a swine facility.

“The goal is to raise 12 pigs, twice a year,” Krahn said. “We would raise them from about six weeks of age to market.”

Krahn said that so far, the greenhouse has operated chemical free, using rabbit manure as fertilizer and hand picking pests.

“I don’t know if that can continue,” she admitted.

Krahn said the program has had tremendous support from the community and the advisory council.

She said Josh Nelson and Michael Brown of Crop Production Services and members of the ag program’s advisory board recently installed a drip irrigation system throughout the entire greenhouse.

“This is amazing,” Krahn said. “Before, someone had to hand water everything every day, seven days a week.”

And, Peoria Gardens donated fuchsias and flats of geraniums to help the students prepare for their annual plant sale coming up in late April and early May.

Some 300 hanging baskets are being tended by the students as they get ready for the big sale.

L.R. Burns, Daniel Park and Alex Solomon were busy attaching wire hangers to plastic flower pots that will contain fuchsias.

Some of the hanging pots were started in January.

Daniel said he lives in a city in South Korea, but his father was a farmer at one time and has always wanted Daniel to learn about working in the soil.

"It has been a very good experience,” Daniel said. “This is the first time I have planted anything. Green beans are my favorite.”

Ellen Qian said she enjoys working with the flowers.

“It has been an all new experience,” Ellen said. “Every day is fun.”

Krahn said she hopes to generate up to $10,000 from the plant sale, which will be used for ag and FFA programs at the school.

Perhaps L.R. summed up the experience the best.

“It’s all about being able to work together,” he said. “We are growing a program back to what it once had been, and we’re doing it together.”

His instructor agreed and said the entire school has been supportive.

“The whole school has embraced us,” she said. “Everyone’s excited, and we get other students coming by and encouraging us. They like the fact that the student body is eating what we’re growing in such a healthy way.”

A few of the 300 flowering plants hang from their greenhouse Friday at Santiam Christian High School in Adair.
L.R. Burns from Crabtree, left, Daniel Park from South Korea and Alex Solomon from Germany bend wires Friday for hanging planters in the Santiam Christian High School greenhouse in preparation for the school's annual plant sale later this month. (David Patton/Albany Democrat-Herald via AP)