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New Ulm FFA hosts fall MAELC meeting

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/03/2013 4:35 PM

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NEW ULM, Minn. — The New Ulm FFA hosted the fall meeting of the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council on Sept. 18.

It was an opportunity to make a state level to local level connection, said Jeff Nelson, who advises the New Ulm FFA. Nelson and Scott Stuckey are agricultural education teachers and FFA advisers at New Ulm High School.

It was an opportunity for the MAELC board to get members out to schools to see what agricultural education programs look like, said executive director Sarah Dornink. The fall meeting is typically held at a secondary school and the summer meeting at a post-secondary school.

The Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council was established by the Legislature. It provides recommendations on agricultural education to the Legislature and it also provides resources to secondary and post-secondary agricultural education programs and ag literacy programs.

Hosting the MAELC board was a big deal for New Ulm High School, said FFA president Allison Bastian, a senior. She sat across from two state representatives at lunch and enjoyed networking and making connections with them.

Nelson said he knew his great set of officers would enjoy the opportunity to sit down with the influential people on the MAELC board. Maybe one will get an internship based on a contact they made at the lunch meeting. It's all about relationships, he said.

As an adviser, he enjoys fostering opportunities for his students and watching them grow.

Hosting the statewide board is also an opportunity to explain and show the challenges and successes happening at the chapter level.

Challenges include keeping the elective area alive and relevant; trying to find access for students because it's difficult to build a program when students don't have the opportunity to take an agricultural education class until their junior year; and developing new curriculum that meets state graduation requirements.

Courses offered at New Ulm High School include: Advanced shop, horticulture, agricultural economics, welding, masonry and power and natural resources.

Successes are many. With more than 230 members, the New Ulm FFA is one of the largest student organizations in the high school, Nelson said.

Two times a year, the FFA organizes a blood drive at the high school and more than 200 students give blood at each drive. The FFA annually raises $15,000 to $16,000 for Camp Courage. Seven teams competed at the Minnesota State FFA Convention in 2013. Three members received their state degrees and they have three American FFA degrees coming. One FFA member, senior Bridget Forst, will perform in the National FFA Chorus. She was one of 80 people selected from 400 applicants to perform at the National FFA Convention at Louisville.

"We're proud of her," Bastian said.

Forst is one of the first FFAers from New Ulm to combine fine arts with FFA in a long time. For her, it's a perfect fit. You can tie anything to the program; it's not only for farm kids anymore, she said.

Senior Kiersten Koehler found her niche in floriculture. She competes on the FFA floriculture career development event team, identifying flowers and plants, judging fresh cut flowers and plants and answering questions about plant care at competitions. She also works at a floral shop.

Senior Ashley Kohn said FFA has literally changed her life. It's given her the confidence to stand up in front of people and talk. It's changed her for the better.

Bastian, who is in her second year as president, is also a public speaker. She competed at state last year and did well and may try extemporaneous speaking this year.

The New Ulm FFA is fortunate, Nelson said, to have great community support.

The FFA partners with the community's Farm-City Hub Club on several projects throughout the year and the club in turn supports them with scholarships and grants.

New Ulm FFA members work at the Farm-City Hub Club food stand at Farmfest and work together to put on a pancake breakfast the second week of February, Kohn said.

They also help out at the New Ulm Farm Show, added senior Megan Struss.

The New Ulm FFA will be seeking a MAELC grant this year to help fund a greenhouse expansion, Nelson said. The existing greenhouse is aging and needs more room. During last week's visit, Nelson cautioned all entering the greenhouse to watch out for the cacti.

In addition to working with the Farm-City Hub Club, the FFA finds many other ways to make a difference in their community. They participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program, Koehler said, and in the spring have an agricultural education event for elementary and preschool children.

The Spring Ag Show is held in May and includes both animals and equipment, Struss said.

She enjoys the leadership opportunities available through FFA. She participated in the Washington Leadership Conference in June where she met people from all over the country.

Dornink reminds educators that the first deadline to apply for MAELC grants is Nov. 15. The second grant deadline is April 15. MAELC will award $178,000 in grants this fiscal year.