Velda Hendricks, Future Farmers of America adviser and agriculture teacher at Arthur A. Richards Junior High School, applied for and was awarded an FFA grant for $2,500 to start a poultry farm. In April 100 fluffy little, cherry-red layer chicks arrived and made themselves at home in a hen house at the junior high school.
Hendricks said the school has a great vegetable garden and she was compelled to add some type of livestock to round out her lessons in agriculture.
“I wanted to add something extra for a mix of crops and animals,” Hendricks said. “Realistically adding a manageable poultry farm was the thing to do.”
She said the hens should each lay from 250 to 300 eggs a year. Her goal is to get the eggs onto the school lunch program.
Michael Edgar and Kofi Boetang, from the University of the Virgin Islands Extension Office, are partnering with the junior high on the poultry project, Hendricks said. She appreciates UVI and the national FFA Association for providing students with opportunities in agriculture.
The building that houses the chicks is bright and clean, with only the scent of fresh hay strewn on the floor for dry litter material. Hendricks said the students enjoy working with the chicks except for cleaning up the manure. The manure is used on the vegetable garden outside her classroom.
The students are raising corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs from seeds and then transplanting the seedlings.
Michael George, FFA historian and eighth-grade student, said they are learning valuable information on growing healthy vegetables without chemicals.
“People always need healthy food,” George said. “And growing it without chemicals is best for us.”
A portion of the produce is used in school lunches and the surplus is sold at school. They have a weather station to record rainfall and they keep records on crop production and food consumption for the hens as a part of the FFA program.
The students have gone on field trips to the UVI hydroponic and aquaponic experimental stations. They have toured the grounds at the Department of Agriculture and the abattoir. And they are involved in the 4H food programs at the UVI Extension Office.
Hendricks, an FFA advisor since 2014, said last year she had 10 youngsters enrolled and this year she has 23.
“My goal is to have all of my 80 students in agriculture become members,” Hendricks said.
The FFA program began in 1991 at Elena Christian Junior High, she said. The past three years there has been a renewed interest in the program and she is working to get the structure of the local chapter better organized.
“FFA benefits the less fortunate in our community with food donations,” said Dale Williams II, an eighth grade student. “And I benefit with the things I’m learning working with the chickens and in the garden.”
Hendricks, gardening since she was a little girl, said at the junior high level students have a zeal and love of food production. But there aren’t any FFA clubs at the high school level on St. Croix.
“My goal is to get clubs started at Central and Complex,” Hendricks said.
There are a lot of scholarships awarded through FFA, Hendricks added. In FFA students develop leadership skills, gain personal growth, learn science and math and it exposes students to numerous and diverse careers in agriculture, she said.
Hendricks said she received a $5,000 grant from national FFA last year to fund the “Living to Serve” food drive, which enabled FFA to serve 10,000 meals in the territory. The food was donated to My Brother’s Table, Catholic Charities, Light House Mission, Queen Louise Home and individuals. Earning the grant put the local chapter in good standing with FFA, she said, and opened the door for more grant funding, such as the grant for the poultry farm.
Being involved in FFA as an adviser is very rewarding Hendricks said.
“I like to be able to make a difference in the students’ lives and see them succeed – especially boys,” she said. “I want to inspire them from the female perspective. I believe I was born to do this with the children.”
Hendricks said the public can help out the local chapter with donations of poultry feed for the hens and connectors for the drip irrigation system they will install in the garden. A donation can be made or more information about the program can be obtained by sending email to Hendricks at email@example.com or by calling the school at 340-772-1500.