Touchet High School greenhouse

From left to right, Touchet High School ag students Grayson Zessin, Mackenzie Forbes and Kaiden McMakin check the tower garden hydroponic systems in the nearly-completed greenhouse. Grant money from Columbia REA will almost pay the cost of getting the structure wired for electricity, teacher Ryan Maiden said.

Dollars from the Columbia Rural Electric Association will do good things in the three counties served by the utility company.

In Touchet, for example, National FFA Organization students are soon going to be able to learn and work in Touchet High School’s new greenhouse — grant money will help pay for electrical wiring, one of the last steps needed to finish the $100,000 project.

The “More Powerful Together” grants, which come from Columbia REA’s community development budget, will total $20,000 this year, spokesman Doug Case said.

The utility cooperative contributes to more than 100 different organizations annually, looking for those that reflect its core values of honesty, loyalty, responsibility, positive attitude and behavior, and professional image, Case said, noting Columbia REA also leans heavily toward supporting area youth.

One of Columbia REA’s philanthropic principles is commitment to the communities where it has customers. In 2018 the utility company created this particular grant program; this year more than 20 organizations applied for the funding, he said, calling it a “tremendous” response.

That made it difficult for a selection panel of five employees to narrow down their choices. In the end, the Friends of Weller Public Library in Waitsburg is slated to receive $7,000 to improve building access; Hope Street sober house for women in Walla Walla will get $4,000 to build up a bicycle inventory for clients to ride to interviews and meetings, and Touchet School District’s agriculture education department has $9,000 more to get its new greenhouse fully operational.

None of the utility co-op’s grants fully fund the projects, Case explained.

“They have to have skin in the game.”

Ryan Maiden, Touchet’s FFA advisor, said the greenhouse project is nearly finished, thanks to a $90,000 grant that came in 2020.

“We have the structure, we have it built, we just didn’t have enough to cover the wiring. Everything cost a lot more than we thought it was going to,” Maiden said.

The Columbia REA money is a big boost in reaching the finish line, but Maiden is continuing to seek other money to wrap it up and get ready for students to start growing, he added.

Case said Columbia REA looks for grant applications that “serve the greatest good.” For more information go to columbiarea.coop.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.

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