Sam Harris, 17 and a junior at Greenbrier High School, has been honored for a program he spearheaded to help feed the hungry in his community.
Harris is a Distinguished Finalist in The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program.
He said Greenbrier High School Principal John Ashworth nominated him and gave him the good news.
“He called me in and told me. I was excited,” Harris said last week.
Ashworth said he first met Sam when he was in the eighth grade.
”He has a special quality that is pretty rare,” Ashworth said. “Even at that young age, he was very mature, and he had a sense of caring and community that — it’s just rare. He was always either involved with projects or coming up with projects to help others.
“That’s why I wanted him to get recognized because that’s a special-type person. He’s going to make a difference.”
The principal said he always told Sam’s mother, Kelly Tapley, that someday Sam was going to make a difference in people’s lives.
Tapley is the media specialist at Greenbrier Junior High School.
“He just has a heart for others,” Ashworth said.
Harris received a $2,500 Food for All grant to fight hunger in the community.
Harris said he applied for the grant through the national FFA organization after his agriculture teacher, Casey Epler, brought it to the student’s attention.
“The national focus right now for the organization is hunger-related and agriculture’s role in that,” Harris said.
Harris, vice president of the high school FFA, said he wanted to do more than donate food to a group.
“Our approach was more of a grassroots program — education,” he said. “We took the approach to host the workshops and teach people how to do container gardening. That was our first workshop topic — that was our original focus. We wanted to really target the less fortunate in our community, the hungry.”
Harris said one challenge he had was how to get the word out to the people in need.
“That’s a hard crowd to target most times. Really, we advertised the program and encouraged our faculty and staff and students to invite someone we felt like would benefit,” he said.
“People invited neighbors, children’s parents. We ended up having several people that we intended to come.”
He said several people volunteered to teach the techniques at the first workshop in September, which was attended by about 30 people.
It wasn’t a one-man show, he said.
“Some of our other FFA officers and FFA members helped me out a lot,” he said. “Every topic we talked about in the workshop, there were a couple of officers who took over that part.
“Everyone was responsible for researching and developing their lesson they were going to teach.
“We hit a couple of major points. We went over containers, just different types you could use, and we also went over soils, which topsoils to buy and what would be best. We had a part over fertilizers and watering, seeds — mainly foods like tomatoes and squash, nutritional stuff.”
The subject of plant diseases and pests was touched on, too, he said.
Harris said more than $700 worth of supplies were given to participants — containers, trowels, seeds, etc.
The student said he was supported by agriculture teachers Rodney Wiedower and Jason Davis, too.
The project will continue this year, Harris said.
“The next step we planned out for the grant was storage and preservation,” he said. Participants in the next free workshop will learn how to stockpile food by canning, freezing or other methods.
“We’re also going to give away some canning supplies at the next workshop,” he said. The workshop has not been scheduled.
Harris said he “absolutely” sees hunger as a problem in Greenbrier. He said he learned during his research for the grant application that more than 90 children in the school district have been referred to receive backpacks with food throughout the year.
Harris said his interest in hunger was sparked through The World Food Prize Global Youth Symposium.
“I give credit to The World Food Prize. It’s almost like getting a Nobel prize, but it’s to do with agricultural sustainability,” he said.
Two delegates from each state attend the symposium, based in Iowa, and Harris went in 2012 through FFA.
“I had to do research on the hunger issue in another country; we were assigned a country,” he said.
He was given the Democratic Republic of Congo and was allowed to pick a specific topic.
“I had to write a four-page paper on diplomatic policies restricting food security,” he said. “That was a great experience.
“That really sparked my interest to do any of this,” he said of the current project.
“This has been one of the greatest experiences, doing this right now. I credit it all to the FFA.”
Harris was one of four finalists in the annual awards program, and two students — one in Fayetteville and one in Cabot — were named to the top honors.
Harris said he has applied for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship through The World Food Prize. It’s an eight-week hands-on summer program at an agricultural research center or institution. He will find out in March if he has been accepted, he said.
Harris said he plans to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and major in agriculture law.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.