FFA offers opportunities beyond farming
By Candi Helseth
This month, three FFA chapters in Burke Divide Electric Cooperative territory will observe National FFA Month - along with 7,859 FFA chapters throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. FFA (Future Farmers of America) encompasses male and female students in grades seven through 12. FFA advisors Keri Hove, Powers Lake, Ben Curdy, Kenmare, and Jeffrey Williams, Crosby, say FFA benefits all student members regardless of whether or not they are interested in agricultural careers.
Kenmare FFA members take a moment to pose for a photo in the National FFA convention sign. Photo courtesy of the Kenmare FFA Chapter.
"I think this is a pretty exciting time for FFA," Curdy commented. "If you think of FFA only as future farmers, that is pretty exclusive. But it's so much more than that. It's an organization that is staying updated with industry technologies. There are a lot of life skills in general that kids learn. They also learn trade skills that can be useful in many different occupations."
The National FFA Organization says today's FFA has evolved to help students prepare for careers in multiple occupations by learning leadership and occupational skill sets that help them transition from high school to college and/or jobs. In Kenmare, students are fortunate to have a new agriculture building and shop that gives them access to advanced technologies that Curdy says will define industry in the future.
"These kids can come out of high school prepared to work," he noted. "For instance, the kids that come out of the welding program are industry ready to start working. They are familiar with products and tool systems that are in the work environment."
Learning what to expect and how to succeed in the workplace is an ongoing emphasis in the Powers Lake FFA. Hove begins preparing students early, assigning ninth graders the task of finding a business opportunity and working under adult supervision for a minimum of 15 hours.
"It's hard to gain work experience around Powers Lake because there aren't a lot of business opportunities here for kids," she said. "Some work for their parents, some do community things like mow lawns, some have come up with their own business ideas. The purpose is to teach them basic career preparation - like the importance of showing up on time, being able to listen and take directions, staying off their phones when they are at work, basic expectations they may not automatically understand."
"One of FFA's strengths is that it is student led and all students learn leadership skills," Hove noted. "They run the meetings, plan the activities and implement their ideas. It gives them so much actual practice in responsibility and leadership."
Powers Lake FFA students participate is a grass and range management lesson as part of the Food for America program. Photo courtesy of the Powers Lake FFA Chapter.
Powers Lake FFA chapter, open to students in grades 7-12, has 52 members. Kenmare, grades 8-12, has 80 members. Crosby, grades 7-12, has 32 members. All three chapters have both male and female members.
Students also learn outside school walls by participating in regional, state and national events. Kenmare's FFA meat judging team won the national team competition in Denver in early 2016. Additionally, two team members took first and second in individual categories. Curdy said the in depth competition requires students to learn all the muscle groupings, retail cuts, grading and yield scoring for cattle, hogs and sheep. The competition requires students to use deductive reasoning, good communication, problem solving and other universal skills that are valuable in any career.
Students from all three chapters attended the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis in October. Every third year Powers Lake students attend a National Leadership Conference in Washington, DC.
Chapters also stress community service. In observance of National FFA Month, Powers Lake FFA members are giving mini lessons in the elementary classrooms. They also sponsor an annual February community pie social at the Senior Center. (Pie is the chosen entree because George Washington is an FFA figurehead - a farmer who started the cherry pie tradition.) Kenmare students prepare and serve a meal during the Christmas season Light Up Night in December.
Crosby community projects have included repairing and painting picnic tables at the football field and fixing lawn mowers for the school and community members. Williams is new to Crosby this year as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. There was an FFA chapter in the past, but it hasn't been active in recent years. He said his biggest goal is to get students to become active and involved.
While FFA still has an agricultural emphasis and North Dakota is still an agricultural state, most FFA students in these chapters are not planning to farm. Many do have interests in ag related careers. Those that have other career aspirations still benefit because FFA teaches such good life skills, Curdy said.
"FFA is a student led organization that is excellent for all kids," Hove asserted. "Agriculture applies to everyone. We would be naked and hungry without it."