Weslaco East FFA chapter addresses hunger, nutrition

The Weslaco East FFA Chapter is one of the 270 chapters that received an FFA COVID-19 Chapter Assistance Grant with more than 700 chapters across the United States to choose from, and the only recipient in the Valley to receive the National FFA Organization Living to Serve Grant. With the financial boost, the students were able to expand their farming projects, planting cabbage, beets and cilantro on Sept. 26, using nearly four acres of land offered by local farmers in the RGV.

“The students will be involved directly and indirectly with the entire production of the vegetables,” explained Romo, who teaches principles of agriculture, floral design, and livestock production at the high school. “The students will be doing everything from planting, to irrigating, fertilizer and pesticide application and then harvesting, packaging and ultimately distributing with the RGV Food Bank.”

All the students’ hard work and dedication is going to allow them to give back to the community by partnering up with the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley; the students not only plan to give food to families in direct need, but to also address potential hunger needs and food insecurity issues.

Food insecurity describes the lack of the availability of food and people’s inability to access it.

According to the Feeding America Organization, more than 5.8 million people in Texas experience food insecurity, ranking Texas as the seventh state with the highest rates of food insecurity nationally.

“The main reason that sparked the idea of doing this project was the time that we’re in and because of the pandemic and every other news post or story on TV or article on your phone is about the pandemic, about people losing their jobs and the lack of access to resources,” said Romo, who studied at Texas A&M University in agricultural sciences. “I believe based on the RGV Food Bank, there are still families where one in five children in the RGV still have issues with food insecurity. They don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, whether that’s because of the pandemic, financial issues or just lack of access.”

By feeding families and educating people about the importance of agriculture, the Weslaco East FFA Chapter members plan for a productive year. The students will harvest their vegetables in December and host a series of events to address health and nutrition, along with the history of agriculture in the Valley.

The members develop their own unique talents and explore their interests in a broad range of agricultural career pathways, from raising livestock, tending to vegetables, photography, welding, getting a drone certification, or being certified in floral design. Today, they are students and FFA members, but they are also future biologists, chemists, veterinarians, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

With the help of their FFA advisers such as Romo, the FFA members of Weslaco East have focused on showing their appreciation for agriculture and have embraced the opportunity to serve despite the pandemic.

“The chapter gives students a home to find something that they’re good at,” he said. “I’m excited and I am super proud of these students that have stepped up and have shifted their perspective and have more of a positive outlook of all the opportunities that can come from the adversities that (were) faced last year. Just seeing how motivated the students are and seeing those ‘ah-ha’ moments, those lightbulbs going off and saying that they’re excited to share their knowledge, that’s everything for me.”

This article was written by Julisa Nevarez, a student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.