First try at farming for talented Schaller teen
You just don't grow teenagers much finer than Mary Foell.
Over the past three years, this soon-to-be junior at Schaller-Crestland School has donated 4,000 pounds of fresh produce she has grown in four gardens at the family's country home.
The gardens are once again green and in their prime, vegetables and fruits galore ripening for their cause.
The fresh food is taken to the Family Development Center in Sac City, and for the past few years, there's also been enough to stock the food pantry for the needy at Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Storm Lake.
"I knew the families didn't get much fresh produce so I decided to start donating," said Mary.
She makes her deliveries personally and quietly. She doesn't want recognition, but admits that she does get great enjoyment out of the gesture.
"I like to see their faces light up when I come in," Mary said. "It makes me feel good... I feel it is my job to give back to the community 'cause they've helped me so much growing up."
Word of her efforts did get out. She was recognized recently as a finalist in the 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
All middle level and high schools in the U.S., along with all Girl Scout Councils, county 4-H organizations, Red Cross chapters, YMCAs, Camp Fire USA Councils and volunteers centers, were eligible to select an outstanding student for the award. Local honorees were then reviewed by state-level judges who selected two state honorees plus a select number of distinguished finalists, like Mary, based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.
Mary was nominated for the award by the Schaller Girl Scouts; she was also made an honorary member.
Since Mary has opened her garden up to those in need, she has started additional gardens. There are four of them now. One is devoted to strawberries and the others contain any kind of vegetable imaginable - except for eggplant which is the one crop that hasn't thrived for the teen. So far in this growing season, 12 quarts of strawberries have been donated. She is anxious to begin carting more produce to town.
While Mary does the planting and picking, mom Laura and dad Bill also help her with the weeding. She admitted, "I do like to plant but I don't like the weeding."
In addition to donating the produce, Mary completed an experiment on her own last year that has provided helpful information to farmers who apply nitrogen to their fields. "I've seen my dad planting and I was interested in helping him lower the amount of his expenses," she commented.
So she obtained a $250 Sustainable Youth Ag Grant that helped pay for seed for an eight-acre test plot across the road from the family's rural home, and for soil testings. For the first time ever, Mary drove the tractor and planted the field. Nitrogen was applied to the soil by the Schaller elevator and soil testings were taken and sent in to Iowa State University where results were calculated.
In the end, it was determined that it doesn't pay to put on more than 100 pounds of nitrogen as the soil absorbs no more than that. Her dad, who has been farming for many years, was surprised with the results of the test as he has been applying some 180 pounds of nitrogen to the fields.
Mary, who is a member of the FFA at Schaller-Crestland, has shared this information with several professional agriculture groups, land owners and personnel at the elevator.
Results are "environmentally friendly and economically friendly," Mary pointed out.
She had a custom combiner come in and harvest her eight-acre corn field and was able to enjoy some of the profits.
Mary has also been out volunteering her time for Popcorn Days, and Buena Vista County Extension's Ag-Citing event designed for youth of the county. She has helped at her church and is an active 4-H member of the Early Achievers.
"We've always tried to teach our kids that they need to give back," said mom Laura. "They've been given a lot and it's not just them in this world. There are a lot of people less fortunate."
Mary knows what a great feeling it is to help others. "I'll keep on helping others, even in my professional life."
Mary and her family remind those with gardens that produce an excess to donate to the food banks instead of letting it go to waste in their gardens.