Rebecca Cristanti and her fellow Future Farmers of America at Newman's Orestimba High School want to earn their FFA state degrees by completing agricultural projects.
The problem? The land most students use to do this was eaten up by classrooms as the school grew, leaving the teens without adequate space to raise animals and grow crops.
The solution? A new school farm. The Newman FFA is raising money for it now.
This farm, already approved by the district and school board, would provide students with a spacious barn, 20 livestock pens, a practice show arena and nearly two acres of land to be used for row crop production and fruit and nut trees.
With the new farm's land and facilities, Rebecca and students like her would be able to complete projects known as supervised agricultural experiences. These require a student to keep two 12-month record books showing that she has put at least 500 hours into the project and earned at least $1,000 from it.
As demanding as the project would be, Rebecca, a junior and member of the school's FFA program for three years, said it would be well worth her effort.
"I made it through getting my Greenhand degree as a freshman and then my Chapter degree as a sophomore," she said, "so (getting my state degree) is my next big step in the FFA program."
Without the necessary land or facilities, however, Rebecca and many Orestimba FFA members are unable to take this "next big step."
According to Newman FFA adviser Lauren Stroud, not many students are undertaking projects because most students live in town and have no land to raise animals and grow crops and plants. She pointed out that the school's agriculture department has been depleted to an auto, wood and metal shop; a greenhouse; and a shade house.
Organizers say the project has the support of the school's faculty, students and community.
Carlee Sterling, a senior who has earned her FFA State Degree and is acting as the school's FFA chapter president, stresses the importance of the new farm.
"It will help students who don't have space to keep their animals or grow crops," she said.
So far, Newman FFA has raised around $8,000 for the farm. Members are now approaching area businesses, offering engraved bricks or plaques in exchange for donations. There is a prize drawing for an engraved brick to be placed on a farm walkway. Members also have sold jerky.
Still, the group is in need of more money to meet its $250,000 goal. That's the amount needed to qualify for matching funds from the California Department of Education.
"It is really hard to get this much money together in such a small community," said Emily Lopez, Orestimba's freshman FFA chapter officer. "We would love to get help from anyone willing."
For more information Newman's FFA and its quest for a farm, or to donate, call Lauren Stroud at 862-2916. Checks should be made payable to Newman FFA and sent to 707 Hardin Road, Newman 95360.
Michelle Vecchio is a senior at Whitmore Charter High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom program.