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Area schools tout FFA programs

ABOVE: Martin County West FFA members at a recent corn drive. From left: Brock Lange, Teya Schmidtke, Ryelynn Forsberg and Kylan Andersen.

SHERBURN– This week marks National FFA week and school districts across the country are celebrating their student leadership programs by putting on special events and showcasing what they offer to not only the rest of the student body but the broader community. Martin County West (MCW), Granada-Huntley-East Chain (GHEC) and Truman FFA all shared updates on their programs and what they have planned for the week.

Stephanie Wohlhuter is an agriscience teacher and FFA advisor at MCW. She said that their FFA program has about 110 students in it grades 7-12.

“We’ve built that number up and are working on making sure all 110 are engaged throughout the year. It’s a strong number,” Wohlhuter said.

The district has had an FFA chapter since its inception in 1989. Wohlhuter said that some of the individual districts had a chapter before that, but not all of them.

Students in FFA need to be enrolled in at least one ag class for every year that they’re in FFA. MCW has three ag teachers. Wohlhuter teachers the agriscience classes and another focuses on ag mechanics and yet another focuses on ag business. They all three play a role in FFA.

To celebrate the week, the FFA program at MCW is putting on a variety of events, starting today with ag olympics. On Thursday the program will hold a pancake breakfast from 6 to 8 a.m.

“It’s for FFA members and their parents but we’ve also invited businesses and farmers who have participated in our corn drive. We usually get about 200 people who come in. It’s one of my favorite events of the year because we get all of the ag supporters in the same place at the same time,” Wohlhuter said.

On Friday morning, FFA members will pack meal kits for the Sherburn Food Shelf, which Wohlhuter said is something new they’ve added to the schedule for this year in an attempt to add a service component.

“Our community is incredibly supportive of FFA and it understands the important role it plays in our school. Whether a kid is from a farm background or not, we’re able to get them involved and help develop skills which is a primary focus,” Wohlhuter said.

She said that the school staff is also supportive of the program and that the students understand how many doors FFA can open for them.

“We get about a third of our student body involved in FFA, which is a pretty high percentage,” Wohlhuter said.

GHEC has a newly established FFA chapter. It’s just in its fourth year and is led by advisor McKenzie Wagelie.

“We’re affiliated so that means anyone who is enrolled in an ag class is in FFA. Our total number is just over 100 but we have about 60 active members who participate in events and meetings throughout the year,” Wagelie said.

The program is also unique in that it includes the middle school sector and is offered to students in grades 6-12. The district therefor offers a variety of ag classes including small and large animal science, food science, meat science, exploring ag and farm to table.

Students in the program have no shortage of events planned to celebrate FFA this week. Wagelie said that officers have basically been planning the week since this past summer.

Activities actually started last Friday with a lock-in which involved about 30 kids having a sleepover in the gymnasium. A variety of games were held and several movies showing during the event.

From today through Friday, there will be dress up days each day with a different theme.

“Our officers will be going to elementary classes to teach them an ag lesson because we’re really focusing on ag literacy and promoting FFA to the younger kids to get them excited,” Wagelie said.

On Wednesday FFA students will hand out cookies to all students during lunch. On Thursday the FFA program will host a bean bag tournament, which all students have the opportunity to participate in.

“Friday is a big day because we have a staff and community breakfast from 7:30 to 11 a.m. It’s for staff, community members, businesses and supporters. We make egg bake, have fruit, coffee and muffins and acknowledge everyone for what they’ve done for our chapter,” Wagelie said.

On Friday evening, GHEC is also partnering with Blue Earth Area School District’s FFA chapter for an event. The district’s FFA chapters will battle it out in donkey basketball.

“There’s also our staff and parent team versus their staff and parent team. It’s a fun way to end the week,” Wagelie said.

She said she thinks it’s important for National FFA Week to take place each year because it’s a way to celebrate the program.

“Especially with us being so new, a lot of kids are still learning what FFA is so we’re trying to get more people excited about it and it helps to have fun events like dress-up days and bean bag tournaments,” Wagelie said.

The program has seen steady growth in its four years. Wagelie said they’ve nearly doubled in size over the past two years.

“Seeing the growth has been really awesome,” she said.

Truman’s FFA advisor, Tiffany Gamache, said there are just under 30 students in the district’s chapter. She said that the chapter has been focused on growing its offerings.

“We’ve been trying to do more contests. We’ve gone to the national convention the last two years,” Gamache said.

She’s excited about a new opportunity coming to the district this spring thanks to a grant she wrote and received from Federated Rural Electric.

“The AgCentric Technology Trailer is coming. It’s got all of these really cool different technologies that the ag industry uses. There will be a day where they come to the school and our kids grades K through 12 will get to experience it. It’s all hands-on,” Gamache said.

She said she hopes that younger students will enjoy the experience and want to get involved with FFA and agriculture in general when they’re older.

“Especially being in a rural community,… it’s the backbone of what we do. And there are so many opportunities. You can work in floriculture and with trees and it’s all of these things that people don’t realize can be a career,” Gamache said.

This week the program is also putting on a variety of events to celebrate National FFA Week. There will be a scavenger hunt, a community pancake breakfast and a movie showing.

Gamache said she thinks National FFA Week is one of the biggest events of the year in the school district.

“FFA is a huge part of our high school. About 1/6 of the school is in FFA and even if you’re not involved, a friend or family member or someone you know is in the ag field,” Gamache said.

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