For FFA members across the country, including Kenyon-Wanamingo’s FFA Chapter, one particular week in February calls for celebration.
Recognized this year from Feb. 22-29, National FFA Week is widely known as a time to share what FFA is and the impact it has on members every day.
K-W FFA celebrates this week with activities and dress-up days. Monday’s dress-up day featured animal print/animals, while members dug out agriculture brand clothing Tuesday. Wednesday highlights FFA shirts and flannels, camouflage is to be worn on Thursday and FFA shirts Friday shorts end the week Friday.
On Wednesday morning, FFA members served community members, teachers, staff and FFA alumni a delicious meal of pancakes, sausage and bacon. Friday, the members will split up in groups to give “Food for America” presentations to K-W elementary students. Each grade is given a different snack to enjoy — cookies and milk, ice cream, vegetables or a cheese stick — while members talk about what animal/plant that particular item comes from.
The future of America
Once standing for Future Farmers of America, FFA is a dynamic youth organization that changes lives and prepares members for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. It was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928. Their mission was to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population. They taught others that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting — it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.
K-W FFA advisor Chuck Larson, who has a background in both agriculture and FFA, laughs while recalling when his father jokingly referred to FFA as “Fathers Farm Alone,” because the organization kept the members so busy, they didn’t have time to help out on the farm. Larson says while there is no longer an emphasis on all members coming from a farming background, FFA hasn’t shifted away from its original mission, but it’s not all “cows, plows and sows.” He recalls a time where he suggested an avid video game player try his hand at flying a drone to check fields for pests.
“We need the ideas these young people are creating with different technologies, and to take them and infuse them into agriculture,” said Larson.”That is how we stay vibrant in cutting edge agriculture precision.”
The name of the organization was updated in 1988 following a vote from national convention delegates to reflect the growing diversity and new opportunities in agriculture. Although the letters still stand for Future Farmers of America due to the history and heritage of the organization, the official name of the organization is National FFA Organization.
Belle Patterson, K-W FFA Chapter president, says it is important to get the message out that FFA is more than just being about agriculture. She says she loves how the agriculture side of things is pushed in the K-W area due to community’s strong, rural ties.
In some cases, the Career Developmental Events (CDE) — occurring at the local, state and national level — members help other members develop an interest in a future career path or enhance a current interest. For example, Patterson says many “musically talented” students have participated in the talent show CDE and have performed really well at the local and state levels.
“[FFA] is an organization that’s geared toward finding a place for everybody, while keeping a focus on agriculture, since that’s what FFA is rooted in,” said Patterson. “It’s a good way to find both. Just because you don’t live on a farm doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be in FFA, because there’s so much more to it than that.”
Some of the CDE’s members can participate in are agriculture communications, agronomy, dairy cattle evaluation, public speaking, veterinary science, poultry evaluation, nursery/landscape, milk quality and products, meats evaluation and technology, livestock evaluation, forestry, floriculture, food science and farm and agribusiness management.
According to FFA.org, members are future chemists, veterinarians, government officials, entrepreneurs, bankers, international business leaders, teachers and premier professionals in many career fields.
Rooted in agriculture
For many K-W members, FFA has been a stepping stone to help them achieve various goals. For members Owen Sheffler, K-W FFA secretary, and Patterson, it has also helped them create friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.
“It’s a lot of fun being able to meet new people, I like doing dairy judging and showing cattle,” said Sheffler thinking of his favorite memories and activities. “I’ve been showing dairy cattle since I was 4 years old. I started showing in 4-H, then learned FFA was another area that I could show at the State Fair.”
Sheffler, like Patterson, had several family members who were involved in FFA, enriching their experience in the organization even more. Sheffler says he recommends FFA to other people, saying that there are plenty of things for people to take part in, even with non-ag-related CDE’s. Patterson says that joining first joining 4-H and FFA, later to earn an American Star in Agribusiness, is a stepping stone process, noting that she had to do one to get the other. Children can participate in 4-H when they turn 5, while students can join FFA once they reach seventh grade.
Patterson’s Star Award came with her proficiency award — a supervised agricultural experience — in her family business, “Country Girl Show Pigs,” where 40 head of sows (female pigs) are bred for show stock that 4-H and FFA members purchase to show at the fair. She ran this project as a Star in Agribusiness for a state degree and received the honor at regions, next up Patterson will take it to the state competition in the end of April. Sheffler also has submitted an American Star project, but in Ag placement, which focuses more on an agricultural placement supervised agricultural experience while working on his family’s dairy farm, where agribusiness focused more on a non-production supervised agricultural experience.
Patterson says she has enjoyed making friendships that will last her a lifetime, through various FFA leadership camps and conventions. She notes one of her friends is from Fillmore, so if it had not been for FFA, she would have never met her. The National FFA Convention is another great experience for any FFA member, says Patterson.
“I would highly recommend [going to the National FFA Convention],” said Patterson thinking of her favorite memories. “It’s so eye opening and you get to meet so many different people.”
A tremendous amount of support
Larson says K-W FFA is fortunate to be in a small community, where the support never ends. He says they receive support through donations from many agribusinesses and business in the area, along with the K-W Alumni FFA Chapter. Patterson says some activities their chapter helps the alumni chapter with are the annual pancake breakfast and the annual pumpkin patch. Members help plant and pick the pumpkins, which are then sold at football games. She says the money from the pumpkins goes directly to the alumni chapter, who then donates it back to the local chapter through scholarships.
“It’s kind of cool how we get to help them out, and in turn they help us out,” said Patterson. “They also put on a meal for us at the State Fair during FFA weekend so we don’t have to eat fair food. It’s good to have a good relationship with them.”
Larson says that the support from the community keeps and solidifies a strong FFA program, and that everyone in the community gives everyone else a hand-up. He says that through the different FFA members he has seen come through his classroom, he has seen many key leaders, who bear strength, continuity and knowledge of the program. More importantly, they show dedication to promoting agriculture.