The twelve students that make up Nicole Weaver’s horticulture class at Twin Valley High School have really been busy getting their hands dirty, and soon it will be time for them to reap what they have sown.
Each year, horticulture students at Twin Valley grow thousands of plants which are then offered for sale at the Mother’s Day Plant Sale – a four day series of sales that takes place at the middle school and elementary schools within the district. Through the sale, youngsters have the pleasure of getting something special for Mom, and the proceeds from the sale benefit the FFA program at Twin Valley High School.
“The Mother’s Day Plant Sale has been around as long as I have been here – which is nine years – and was started by my predecessor, Ron Frederick,” Weaver explained. “It is a long-going tradition at Twin Valley High School.”
For the students, the sale is more than just a tradition, it is a requirement that is treated as a graded assignment, and rightfully so – because it is a lot of work.
The large number of plants grown - this year the count is 3,000 - is a proportional reflection of the size of the student body at the schools – Honey Brook Elementary Center’s 450 students, Robeson Elementary Center’s 400 students, Twin Valley Elementary Center’s 500 students, and the 1100 students at Twin Valley Middle School (these student body numbers are approximations) typically take one or more plants home.
Horticulture students initially begin preparing for the sale in the beginning of the semester, when they clean and set up the two 20 x 15 ft. greenhouses located in the ‘Ag wing’ of Twin Valley High School, with the older high school students showing the new students the process (the plant sale is just one of many activities centered around the greenhouses).
The plant sale supplies which are needed – plugs (small-sized seedlings grown in trays), soil, pots, etc. – are ordered in November and are delivered in February. The students then engage in a two-and-a-half month process of raising the plants.
As an educator who values challenging students with hand-on learning, Weaver is trying a new variety of plants for this year’s sale and tripling the varieties available to be sold.
“For years we had done the same plants and so I decided that we will try different plants this year. I thought we should change it up to make things interesting and fun for the kids. Since this is a learning experience I wanted to have different plants so that they are learning different things from the years before.”
This year’s inventory includes Wave Petunias grown in hanging baskets, and a selection of potted plants: Coleus, Geranium, Lobelia, Verbena, Ageratum, Lantana, and New Guinea Impatiens.
“The top seller is the impatiens,” said Weaver. “They come in the greatest variety of colors and we expect to sell about 600 of them this year.”
Weaver said that science-based knowledge, such as plant structure and biology, is coupled with the acquisition of basic greenhouse skills in order to create a well-rounded horticultural experience. She added that as the time of the sale approaches it is evident that the students have come to grasp their responsibilities, and thereby are offer a sense of ownership over the plants and the sale itself.
“As the plants grow, the students will learn all about the plants and the different care methods, so they will grow as learners too… …it makes it more challenging for them and is a great learning experience for everyone,” she said.
In the final days before the plant sale begins, Weaver also teaches her students a bit about good customer service and the basics of sales, as her students are responsible for selling the plants as well.
The Monday before the sale, a count out of the different species is conducted so that everyone knows what inventory will be going to each school. When the first day of the sale arrives, the logistical task of transporting the plants involves students forming an assembly line and loading up the school’s van and any student vehicles which are volunteered for transportation.
“We run around like crazy people,” she joked, “We call it ‘plant Tetris’ because fitting all of the plants into the van is just like a puzzle. At the same time, getting all of the plants to fit without damaging them is also a delicate dance.”
Each day of the sale the students set up at a different school, and at each of the schools the set up for the sale is unique.
“Some schools prefer that we are inside, others prefer outside. We like setting up outside because it makes cleaning up after the sale easier,” Weaver said with a smile.
Once the sale begins, Weaver takes a hands-off supervisory approach, letting her students conduct the orders. She said that it is great to see the interaction between the younger students and her students because, although raising funds to the FFA is important, the main goal of the plant sale is to give the kids a good experience.
“The little kids look up to high school kids like they are rock stars. The older kids handle it really well and it is great to see,” she said. “It is so cute to watch the little ones come up and pick out a plant for their moms, sometimes they are so shy, and it feels great to give them something special that they can give as a Mother’s Day gift.”
Each sale day, Weaver’s students hustle for at least four hours straight. As an incentive for the students to try their best, Weaver has a friendly competition occur where each day’s best salespeople get treated to an excursion at Dairy Queen.
After the sales at the schools are complete, any remaining plants are then offered for sale to members of the Twin Valley High School staff. Any plants left beyond that point are then planted into the school’s garden.
Over the last few years, the school has brought in approximately $2,000 annually (after expenditures) from the plant sale for the benefit of the FFA.
“The whole thing is a wonderful all-around experience,” said Weaver. “It’s great to see the look on the kids’ faces when they get their plants, and teaching my students is just as rewarding.”
The Twin Valley Mother’s Day Plant Sale, sponsored by the Twin Valley Agricultural Sciences Department, will be taking place during school lunch hours at Robeson Elementary Center on May 7, Twin Valley Middle School on May 8, Honey Brook Elementary Center on May 9, and the Twin Valley Elementary Center on May 10.
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