Ag teacher honored for salsa project

Jacob Lane · Thursday, August 22, 2013
The National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) has chosen West Liberty High School Agricultural Teacher Zachary Morris as the winner of the 2013 Ideas Unlimited Award.

He was recognized for the "Salsa Project," which mixes agriculture and business together into a learning experience for students.

Participants from grades 8-12 in the West Liberty Agriculture Program grow fresh roma tomatoes and jalapeno peppers to be used in salsa by the El Patio Family Mexican Restaurant in West Liberty.

"I feel like receiving the award isn't about what I can do, but rather it advocates for what my students can do," said Morris.

He started the program in 2012. While students use raised bed gardens to grow fresh produce during the school year, FFA members take over during the summer.

Morris believes the project is unique because of the way it mixes business, growing vegetables, and learning.

"A lot of people look to business for financial reasons, but we use it as an avenue to sell our students products," Morris said. "It's more about the skills they learn in the process than the final product."

In the end both parties come out as winners, students learn how to grow and sell produce while El Patio gets fresh home-grown ingredients for its salsa.

"We've been doing it for two years, and its been a really good thing," employee of El Patio Yaridia Sosa said.

According to the NAAE the program builds awareness of locally grown produce, increases agriculture program involvement within the community and increases Hispanic enrollment within agriculture.

The Ideas Unlimited Award is designed to give NAAE members an opportunity to share useful and innovative teaching ideas. These ideas are judged on their originality, practicality, adaptability and instructional value according to a press release.

Morris was recognized as one of five national winners. His region included Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. He'll give a 30 minute presentation on the West Liberty Agriculture Program in Las Vegas, Nev., later this year.

"I'm excited to showcase the West Liberty program," he said. He also recommend El Patio's salsa, "You can tell it's fresh," he added.
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