North Marion High School student Jorden Bartelds sees a bright future in the ocean — specifically in seaweed.
A junior officer within the North Marion FFA Chapter, Bartelds is looking to head into her senior year exploring the nutritional and environmental benefits of growing, harvesting and processing kelp.
"I do prepared public speaking as a competition, and that was my topic this year," Bartelds said. "Three-dimensional ocean farming and growing seaweed and kelp in the ocean to help with a food source and with climate change."
Bartelds sees an ocean of possibilities with the project. While she's not a fan of the flavor, she recognizes that the nutritional benefits of kelp is vastly overlooked in American culinary culture, but has become steadily more accepted with the rise in popularity of sushi.
But she's more interested in its uses beyond the dining room table.
"I like it for more of the bio-fuel aspect," she said. "You can make water pouches out of it. If you take certain aspects of the seaweed out, you can create kind of water-bottle replacements that they hand out at marathons."
The project is vast in scope, requiring the FFA program to set up a new salt-water hydroponic system that will allow Bartelds to grow and monitor the kelp over the course of her senior year.
"It'll be a lot more testing with PH, salinity and electrical conductivity," she said. "It'll just be a lot of extra work, but I'm prepared."
It's also a project that the FFA program is unable to realize with its current greenhouse facility, a modest-sized gravel plot tucked behind the high school. Fortunately, they'll soon be getting a massive upgrade after completing the finishing touches on a $25,000 fundraiser to build a new greenhouse over the summer.
"We raised about $12,000 so far, and the school district is kicking in the rest of it," FFA advisor Tricia Stoddard said.
During the past six months, the FFA program has been steadily raising funds to build a new greenhouse for the 2019-20 school year. The move was necessary, as the current greenhouse sits in the way of new construction as part of the $42 million bond passed in 2017, and is scheduled to be dismantled later this month.
Stoddard and the FFA program have been exploring a variety of fundraising options this year, from grant writing to its annual plant sale, which hosted a preview sale at the greenhouse on May 3 and will hold its full sale this week before Mother's Day on May 9-11.
The plant sale acts as the program's primary fundraiser for the FFA chapter, but the team was able to bring in additional revenue for the greenhouse fundraiser through a variety of means, including a $2,500 grant from the Northwest Farm Credit Services Rural Community Grant.
That, along with an additional $2,500 coming from this year's All-School's Auction held earlier this spring was enough to put the program over the threshold needed to begin construction on the new greenhouse over the summer.
"It was amazing seeing that people from our community truly do care about the FFA and what we do, and getting that amount of money from people," Bartelds said.
The new greenhouse will be 10 feet wider and four feet longer, enabling the FFA program to raise more plants and work on bigger projects such as Bartelds' hydroponic system next year.
"I developed a really big passion for growing seaweed," Bartelds said. "It's what I want to do with my life and the future, so I thought why not start in the new greenhouse and be able to hand that off to another member if they wanted to."
North Marion FFA Plant Sale
When: May 9-10, 3 to 6 p.m.
May 11, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Greenhouse behind North Marion High School
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)