Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — As harvest season brought the common sight of combines, tractors and grain hopper trailers to roadside fields around Southeast Iowa, one set of students brought equipment to a farm of their own. A total of 24 acres, technically part of the city’s business park south of town, housed the FFA Land Lab this year, where a group of five students invested their own time, money and energy raising a crop from start to finish.
Students said it gave them a new perspective on running a corn and soy operation.
“I’m raised on a farm that does both beef and crop production, but I haven’t been extremely active in it on our farm on that side,” Land Lab Secretary Iris Peterson said. “I wanted to experience it and see what it was like to do it myself, and then learn with another group of kids my age, see what questions they have that I didn’t think of.”
On top of that, Peterson said it was fun to learn with her peers.
“We all get to come out here and we get to do it as a group,” she said. “When you get to do it with people your age … and people that are passionate about it, it becomes fun. It’s a fun learning environment.”
Land Lab Reporter Jade Scheetz said the group made its own calls on what seeds to buy, where to buy them from, how to raise them and where to sell the product. While they have some help from FFA alumni volunteers, students said they didn’t need it too often.
“Rather than getting a lot of guidance or having your parents run the farm, it’s us five making all the decisions and organizing everything,” she said.
That firsthand experience sets Land Lab apart from working at family farms or learning in a classroom, according to Land Lab President Blake Evans.
“You get to see more of what the bills are, and stuff like that,” he said. “That and, when we get hand-on experience at the farm, we don’t usually get the paycheck.”
Amanda Fishback, one of the program’s volunteers, said she was thankful the city provided the land from its business park and cemetery expansion project.
“The land … is for sale, so we were worried about the kids losing the money they invested,” she said. “The city administrator decided to let them rent it for free. It was really nice, we met with her and it did not take a lot of negotiation.”
The land remains up for sale to business park buyers, but City Administrator Deanna McCusker said she was glad it worked out for this season.
“They always farm this, this is nothing new, we just got on the same page about how much they were going to do this year,” she said. “And it’s good for them.”