MATTOON -- Over the past few months, the local Future Farmers of America chapters have spent time either planting or restoring tractors in their time outside of school.
Mattoon FFA students, some for the first time, got the chance to plant a new crop for the group on their three-fourths acre this year along with planting pumpkin and mums.
Karl Rabe, FFA adviser, said the Mattoon group had been busy over the summer planting sweet corn seeds donated by Eric Brucker, sweet corn breeder.
Rabe said adding a new crop gave the group another time to plant and sell a product, but the plot also served as an educational tool.
“He gave us 30 different trials, 30 different types of sweet corn,” Rabe said. “So now, not only is it a fundraiser but now it is an educational plot.
“For instance, why did this type of sweet corn do better than this one and what are the differences between them?” he added.
Rabe said it also is better to actually make and grow what you sell than fundraising off of something like candles, which they have sold in the past.
“These guys went out to the field. They tilled up the field. They planted. They went back out. They weeded the garden,” Rabe said.
It is a more meaningful, he said.
Comparatively, sweet corn was easier to handle than pumpkin, however, the group of students still ended up spending two to six hours just planting the seed between six members, and several more hours weeding.
Skylar Rhoads, FFA member, said it is exciting to try out a new plant outside of pumpkin and seeing what came of the end result.
Olen Ames, FFA member, said that when the corn was harvested, they ended up “testing” the corn a lot for “quality control.”
Ames said he hopes there are chances in the future to try out other types of plants like green beans. They’re more labor-intensive, which he is more accustomed to.
Pierce Wallace, another member, said crops like that also get more yield.
Rabe said members might have the chance to try out different crops in the future.
Outside of planting, Rabe said a Mattoon Alumni FFA chapter has sprouted up again.
The alumni base has been dormant for years. But this year is the 10th-year anniversary since the agriculture program made its way back to Mattoon High School.
“There have been efforts to start an ag program for like 10 years, but it is never kind of gone through,” he said.
But a growing group of former members and others just interested in supporting the chapter have formed with the intent to bolster support financially or otherwise to the agriculture program and the FFA group.
Rabe said one of the first goals of the group is to seek funding to allow FFA members the supplies needed to finish up restoring hay wagons that the group is eager to finish.
Along with regularly attending fairs and contests for local FFA chapters, the Charleston chapter has been slowly toiling away at restoring a vintage 1957 Farmall 450 gas tractor that was given to them a couple of years ago.
The project has been slow going, but the group is moving closer and closer to finishing the red tractor, Ethan Burns, Charleston FFA reporter, said.
“We really didn’t dive into it until last year,” he said.
But FFA members are more focused on getting the restoration done. Marlene Perkins, the Charleston FFA adviser, said the chapter hopes to have it done sometime in the winter right before spring.
Now, pieces and parts are scattered across the garage for the tractor, plus the plow that is set to be attached to it, however, the work is going. Perkins said that there were really no detrimental issues with the tractor when the chapter got it, but it still needed to be taken apart to do general maintenance.
“If it's functioning properly, you do a tear down on that but mainly to replace seals and gaskets,” she said. “You do basic maintenance and then you would send it off to paint and then restore their tractor to original paint color, original decals, original sheet metal.”
There are currently working up a list of what new parts they need to finish up the tractor and plow.
Burns, who has restored tractors in the past, specifically has been spending a lot of time on the tractor.
“It pretty fun tearing it apart, replacing everything and seeing how everything works,” he said.
While he is excited to see it come together, he got the most enjoyment out of the initial work that goes into the project.
“Seeing it painted is awesome too, but I like the work,” Burns added.
Perkins noted there is a noticeable sense of accomplishment on the students' faces as each phase of the project is finished.
Once the tractor is restored, it will be taken to shows and hopefully raffled off. The tractor restoration is a major source of income for the chapter.