As you walk into one of the two Moses Lake High School greenhouses behind the school, the earthy smell of soil and growing plants comes at you and a kaleidoscope of rows and rows of multi-colored flowers fill the space. Toward the back, Moses Lake High School agriculture teacher Tony Kern is spraying plants with a hose.
Most of those flowers will be used by the Future Farmers of America students at Moses Lake High School to fill planters in the downtown area of the city, explains Kern.
Jasmyne DeBeaumont, Executive Director of the Moses Lake Business Association (MLBA) says that the flower pots are part of the MLBA's mission to beautify the downtown area. "It made the most sense to partner with the FFA," she says of the project that's been going on for at least ten years.
Kern teaches Horticulture, Agriculture Leadership, and Physical Science Agriculture at the high school, and says "day in and day out" twenty-six FFA members work on the flowers. But when it comes time for planting, up to 150 students will work on it. The core group are the Leadership and Horticultural classes which total 45 students, he says.
The FFA plants flowers in 133 pots in downtown Moses Lake, plus around the clock at Third and Ash Street, Kern explains. In addition, there are sixteen wooden planters by the lake on dead-end streets. "It's expensive and labor-intensive," Kern adds. In the Fall, the students will clean out the pots of the old flowers and dirt and leave them empty over the winter. Starting after the Christmas break, the students will begin growing the plants in the two high school greenhouses. The plants either go to the flower pots or are sold in the FFA plant sale fundraiser in late April.
Then in early May, after it is likely there won't be a frost, the students prepare the pots with soil, fertilizer, and water and then plant the flowers, Kern explains. The flowers have to be transplanted from the small, individual pots they grow in into the large pots downtown. "Good thing we have lots of pack mules," Kern says with a smile, referring to the students who have to haul the flowers and soil to the pots. The whole process, Kern explains, takes a couple of weeks. "We have a deadline," he adds, and that's the Spring Fest on Memorial Day weekend.
"It's a lot of effort," DeBeaumont says. During the summer, the MLBA takes care of watering them but, according to DeBeaumont, downtown merchants will take care of the pots casually by taking out garbage or pulling a weed.
DeBeaumont explains that the MLBA has an "Adopt-a-Pot" program where, for $100, a person or business can get their name put on a pot. The money goes to support the flower pots program. She adds that MLBA member dues also go to pay for the program.
"It supports FFA and supports downtown," DeBeaumont says. She says the students make sure the flowers are "nicely potted." And she says she gets a "thrill out of everything looking nice." Shoppers and downtown merchants appreciate the flowers, she says. A few years ago the MLBA did a survey and feedback on the flower pots "came back very positive." "We're doing all we can to make the city look great," she says. "We're always looking for people to help," DeBeaumont adds, through the Adopt-a-Pot program or otherwise.
"It's cool to drive downtown and see you've helped out the community," says Sara Munck. Munck is a 16-year-old junior at Moses Lake High School and president of the FFA there. She agrees that it's hard work, especially on chilly mornings when the dirt is all cold. "But it's fun," she adds, "I do it with friends and classmates." Munck says that even though Moses Lake is growing, it still feels like a small town and "that's why I like helping out with the community."
Munck adds that a lot of young people think FFA is just for "country kids." But she says there are a lot of opportunities for anyone. For example, she's participating in a Prepared Public Speaking competition as part of her FFA experience. "Even an urban kid can get so much from FFA," she says. For herself, Munck hopes to go to the Hillsboro Aero Academy in Oregon and learn to be a helicopter pilot.
"There are tremendous valuable things to this," Kern says of the flower pot program. "It's amazing how many kids don't go downtown." But the ones who work on the flower pots will, he says, to check them out. And often the students are "appalled at what they find" in the spring when they go to plant the flowers as they will find garbage and cigarette butts thrown in the pots. So the "kids take ownership of their community," Kern says.
The Moses Lake FFA makes a profit from this, but "we would do this for free, it's that valuable," Kern says. The FFA members who work on it take pride in the community, Kern explains. "It's a great opportunity."