Ryan England was one of those kids who willingly ate his veggies. Now he’s making sure a lot more Ferndale-area folks can enjoy fresh produce.
The 16-year-old Custer resident, a junior at Ferndale High, initially thought he would be one of three students growing vegetables for Ferndale Food Bank. But others joined in, raising vegetables in more than a dozen gardens.
“I was amazed when a number of students came to me, indicating an interest in working with us,” England says. “By the end of the growing season, which went from March to August in our first year, we had 20 students participating and we had delivered 1,181 pounds.”
“All 20 have indicated to me they want to return to the project this year,” he says.
England and his supporters also raised $1,494 for the food bank through a pie sale last holiday season, and plans for this season include installing a “hoop house” for growing vegetables at Ferndale Friendship Community Garden.
England calls the project S.H.I.F.T. - for “Sustainable, Healthy, Informational, Friendships and Thrive” - and he wants to train younger students to take his place as program coordinators after he graduates from Ferndale in 2017.
The son of Kirk and Sabrina England, he wants to major in agricultural engineering at the University of Nebraska or Iowa State University.
“I plan to go into water and resource management as a career,” says England, who has a 3.6 grade-point average, plays eight musical instruments, and sings bass in the school choir.
“I became aware of different crops when I was in grade school,” he says. “Dad talked with me about agriculture and we would evaluate different kinds of crops by the side of the road.”
England began researching local food insecurity when he was a sophomore. His family lives on five acres, so he realized he could do something about local food challenges.
He and two fellow students, Kevin Rietveld (now a junior) and Elizabeth Hand (now a senior), began planting and caring for a garden.
“Suzanne Nevan, the director of the Ferndale Food Bank, was elated when we brought in our first donation, which was 40 pounds of several different types of vegetables,” England says. “She was super happy and it was a very satisfying experience for us. It was something different in our lives.”
To learn more about S.H.I.F.T., go to shiftfoods.org.
To volunteer, email Ryan England at firstname.lastname@example.org