Amy Bickel The Hutchinson News
It's a 15-acre plot they call their own - and for the next eight months, they will watch the markets and the weather as their newly planted wheat matures.
But for these five Reno County high school students, it's more than learning about production agriculture and making a buck come harvest time. They want to raise awareness across the county about a bigger issue - hunger in rural America.
It's an issue more concealed - not visual, like seeing the photos of starving people in another country. However, said Buhler High School student Jason Klamm as he watched a tractor and drill plant their wheat plot Monday, "It is an issue that is going on, even in Reno County, that not a lot of people know about."
Klamm, along with Hutchinson High School's Jason Paine, Haven's Alek Royer and Buhler students Jacob Grinstead and Lacy Pitts, are part of a new K-State Research and Extension Reno County program called Invest an Acre. The program started through a $1,000 grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the National 4-H Council, said Reno County Agriculture Extension Agent Cody Barilla.
"It started with an idea of just wanting to get kids some hands-on learning in farming," he said. "I know not many kids get the opportunity to grow up on a farm. It seems like our country is getting more and more separated from the farm."
Yet, only part of it is about farming, he said.
Buffett, Warren Buffett's farmer philanthropist son from Nebraska, has an aim to resolve hunger issues on the home front. He partnered with Monsanto, Feeding America and ADM to encourage farmers to donate an acre or more to help fight hunger in their own communities.
Even before the wheat was planted, the youths started working to raise awareness about the issue. A canned-food drive during the Reno County Fair netted them more than $500 in cash and 400 pounds of food for the Reno County Food Bank, Barilla said.
They also wanted to invest in their own plot of land, with a percentage of the prospective profits going to county hunger programs. Barilla said they called Gary Cramer, who runs the K-State Experiment Field south of Hutchinson, to see if they could use some acreage there to launch the program. Local farmer and seed dealer Pat Elpers said he would donate the seed.
Others, too, began to see the benefits of the program, helping to kick in money or provide expertise to the students.
Each student was going to make decisions for his or her own three-acre plot, Barilla said. However, the five, all choosing the same seed and making other management decisions, have decided to farm in partnership. They figured it initially it would cost them $230 an acre to plant the crop, which includes custom work rates, fertilizer and crop insurance. That figure doesn't account for what others have donated, so the student investment isn't as high.
Still, Barilla noted, the students are learning that "it is not easy just breaking even. And making money is harder."
They will check their fields periodically to see what needs to be done next, such as applying fungicide. In addition, in the coming months they plan to have a hunger awareness poster contest for elementary or junior-high-age students. Grinstead, 16, said the group set aside $100 for prizes.
They also have other ideas, including how to help the food bank, which is in need of more donations.
"It's a good way to educate the kids about something they take for granted," Grinstead said.
All have some rural background, all are in 4-H, and most are in FFA. Royer said his parents do farming but that he was looking forward to being part of a program in which he had his own acreage, as well as working to resolve hunger issues.
Klamm said his family has livestock, and he hopes to go into an agriculture-related field upon graduation.
Grinstead, who has a few horses and a 4-H show steer, said that someday he, too, wants to have a job in the agriculture industry - maybe even helping his grandfather on his cattle operation near Longford.
Already he is feeling invested. He downloaded the Dow Jones mobile app on his phone last weekend.
"It was up 3.8 percent this weekend," he said. "I raised my hands in the air and yelled."
Soon they all were standing in a newly planted wheat field talking about the drought in western Kansas and the current weather trend.
"They already are starting to sound like farmers," Barilla said.
Follow the program and the wheat through Facebook: www.facebook.com/RenoCounty4HInvestAnAcre