Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Reporter's FFA media award brings her FFA experience full circle

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 05/20/2013 9:30 AM

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I don't get much mail anymore. Most of our snail mail involves bills and advertising flyers plus the press releases and newsletters I receive for my job.

Email, Facebook, Pinterest and texting are my main ways of communicating with the world now.

So the letter my husband handed me when I returned from a day of story interviews intrigued me. The letter was from the Minnesota FFA Foundation and was written by its executive director, Val Aarsvold.

The Minnesota FFA Foundation was awarding me its media award. They wanted to present me the award at the Foundation's Honors Reception held at the Club Room Level of the Mariucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.

I stood there with letter in hand and mouth wide open.


My husband looked at me with caution. Rarely am I quiet. Usually I'm the little whirlwind when I return from a day on the road, busily doing a thousand tasks at once from putting my camera and notebooks in my office to getting food out for supper. But, at that moment, everything came to a standstill.

"What's wrong?" My husband, Doug, asked.

"Absolutely nothing," I said. "Everything is just so ... so right."

I had this feeling that everything had come full circle. I'd joined FFA as a scared high school junior and found my niche through the program. I entered public speaking contests at the FFA regional events and decided on an ag journalism career.

Among my favorite stories as a reporter are those focused on FFA members, the honors they've achieved and the work they do to learn more and promote agriculture.

For me it's a part of my job that I love. To be honored for doing something that I find so fulfilling is like the cherry on top of the chocolate sundae.

My thoughts went back to my first FFA experience. Yes, I was scared. I was entering the Hoffman Public School's ag department for the first time.

The only other room I'd been in before that day had been the gymnasium to cheer on my Barrett Lakers basketball team.

But this was a new shared program our two schools were trying. Barrett students were bussed to Hoffman, just seven miles down Minnesota Highway 55, to attend ag and German classes. Hoffman students made the trip in the afternoon for higher math and business courses.

My best friend, Lorrie, and I were among five girls in the ag and FFA program. Most of us were 4-H friends and had shown dairy cattle together.

I loved it. Although I'd tried to be part of the Future Homemakers of America, this was where my heart was — in the midst of anything agricultural. FFA was an ideal springboard for that interest.

During my second year, my FFA advisor and ag instructor, Tom Larson, encouraged me to take part in a work study-type program similar to a Supervised Agricultural Experience. While there were a few weeks of training, I would spend the rest of the year at the Hoffman Tribune where the editor, Harvey Beuckens, would guide me through the newspaper world.

I had to apply for the job and clock in for my two hours each day.

Other students also took part in the program and became subjects for a series of stories I wrote abput their work experiences.

As a member of the Hoffman-Barrett FFA Chapter, I participated in public speaking and horticulture teams.

FFA was also the foundation for a new venture for my family's farm. With my half-brother' Byron's encouragement, I purchased a bred gilt from Frank Mulder of Kerkhoven. I showed the offspring at the Minnesota State Fair over the next four years as well as registered Milking Shorthorns that were also part of our diversified farming operation.

Through FFA, I knew I wanted to continue in some type of ag field, but returning to the farm wasn't an option.

But I loved to write and, with my SAE-type experience at the newspaper office and my farm background, I graduated with a journalism degree from Moorhead State University and went to work at small weekly and daily papers focusing on ag reporting.

Whether I was writing as a staff member or, in later years as a freelance writer before joining the Agri News team, FFA has always been an important part of the agriculture picture I've painted through my stories.

My sister-in-law Kim escorted me to the Mariucci where I received a beautiful plaque for my reporting. The award honors my "continual efforts to promote and educate the public on FFA and its impact on today's youth."

I can say it's not much of an effort on my part. It's exciting to talk to these young people. They are so enthused and excited about agriculture. They have a maturity and wisdom they've gained through their experiences with the FFA program whether its been conducting a meeting, taking part in contests or their SAEs.

And so, to the Minnesota FFA Foundation, I say thank you for this honor. It means far more to me than anyone can imagine. I am very humbled to be recognized in this way for something that I truly enjoy doing and that's talking with and meeting the members of the FFA and the chance to tell their story.

Through all of these experiences, I can truly say I am blessed.