The Dan Faust farmstead off airport road was packed with first-year Valley City State University students Tuesday morning as the young people harvested thousands of pounds of squash to be given to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo.
An estimated 190 VCSU students, mentors and crew chiefs participated Tuesday, coming to the site by bus.
Arriving at the field about 9 a.m., the young men and women worked hard before breaking for a wiener roast at about 10:30 a.m.
The students in Valley City State University’s Learning to Live program have been involved in harvesting squash to benefit the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo for the past two years, said Kari Stricklin, director of the student center and student activities.
Stricklin said Friday “It is a community service project – we partnered with Faith In Action and (its director) Vicki Grafing. She was involved in the squash harvest the previous year with the pastor, who didn’t know how to get enough people to harvest the squash. Last year we decided to try it with Learning to Live. Now we’re in our second year, and it has been a huge success.”
Stricklin said VCSU requires all first-year students – “99 percent of them are freshmen” – be in Learning to Live.
Vinny Marin, a first-year VCSU student, said performing a community service project as part of freshman orientation was unexpected.
“It’s kind of different, but nice, because we get to help the community,” Marin said.
Adam Russell, another VCSU freshman who helped with the harvest, said, “It’s good for the community.”
Russell said the work didn’t phase him. “I live on a farm and I was prepared for picking,” he said.
Some of the students picked squash individually, while other students organized their groups of about 15 into assembly lines, passing the vegetables from where they were picked into large cardboard boxes spread around the field.
As each box on a wooden pallet was filled, a Bobcat skid steer loader took away the load to place it on one of two semi tractor-trailer rigs brought in by the food bank.
Faust, a pastor at the Sheyenne Care Center, and son Marco Faust said they guessed how many pounds of squash were on the fields to pick Monday evening.
“I think I guessed 47,000 pounds,” the reverend said. “I guessed 62,000 pounds, but I was probably optimistic,” Marco said.
The actual count was 37,526 pounds.
“Last year 90 counties benefited from the squash. The students really see the value in this project and appreciate the opportunity to give back to the people of North Dakota.”
The squash will be distributed to 278 food shelves, soup kitchens, shelters and other charitable feeding programs supplied by the Great Plains Food Bank, a program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.
Jamie Wirth, VCSU mathematics instructor and director of Learning to Live said Monday, “this will be the second year in a row we’re out there. L To L (the commonly used nickname for the program at VCSU) started long before I got here.”
Wirth said VCSU also does a more traditional orientation, where new students are introduced to the campus, facilities, programs and services, “but we also do the service learning program. Also during the students’ (first) 12 weeks they work with an advisor and mentor on their own service project. It’s a learning experience and it provides to the community. Two years ago after the 2009 flood we disposed of the used sandbags, and we painted fire hydrants.”
Stricklin said, “I’ve been on campus 13 years, and VCSU had it (the program) going then. We always try to incorporate some type of volunteer projects. In the past students have painted fire hydrants and helped with sandbagging in 2009. We try and find a big project they can do as a group. Then the squash project came along, and it seemed a perfect fit.”
Stricklin said the food bank benefits from the students’ work, and all the squash either stays in or benefits North Dakota. Stricklin said at times the food bank will, for example, trade some of its squash to a neighboring state that has a surplus of apples, which the Fargo food bank might be short of.
Faust planted the squash and cared for it over the spring and summer. He said the lion’s share of credit belongs to the Learning to Live program, the Faith In Action program, which got him involved in the first place, and the food bank.
“I look after it during the summer, but how do you get it on the trucks?”
Said Faust, “ Learning to Live is a wonderful program. They (VCSU) teach their students about volunteerism – I think that’s a wonderful thing to do. The organization we’re getting the squash for is also wonderful. They have a huge warehouse in Fargo.”
Faust said a number of Valley City businesses donated items for the wiener roast, a major hit with the students after working in the fields.
Valley Meat Supply donated the wieners, Leevers donated the buns, Marketplace Foods donated ice, KOVC and U.S. Bank donated pop, Central Avenue Health Mart Pharmacy donated hand cleaner, “and the rental place at Central and Fourth offered use of a Bobcat. We didn’t need it, but the offer was appreciated. A lot of people in Valley City are doing what they can to help out.”