Future Farmers emphasize leadership

by Douglas Rojas

About 3,000 blue jackets invaded the University on Monday.
High school students from across Minnesota are attending the 68th Minnesota State Future Farmers of America convention, hosted in the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center on the St. Paul Campus. The convention began on Sunday and will run through today.
“They make an impression on campus. It’s great to give them the exposure with the University,” said Judy Sunvold, a program coordinator with the Minnesota Extension Service.
Wearing their traditional navy blue jackets with the FFA logo on the back, the students participate in different activities including animal and flower judging contests and leadership workshops.
The Minnesota FFA is a youth organization that not only informs its members “what options are available in the agricultural industry but also attempts to develop leadership skills,” said Laura Klein, president of the Minnesota state chapter and a junior at North Dakota State University.
Convention participants, who represent various local chapters, include about 200 adult advisers. Most FFA students and advisers are staying in local hotels to attend the St. Paul festivities.
The organization has focused since the 1960s on increasing participation by young African Americans and women. The group has downplayed the “future farmers” aspect of its name in an effort to break down stereotypes of being only for rural white males, Klein said.
“Everybody is welcome, whether you have an interest in developing leadership or in agriculture,” she said.
The convention provides a great opportunity to stimulate students’ educational interests, said Curtis Norenberg, program director for the Extension Service and a University agriculture professor.
The Extension Service has helped coordinate the convention since 1928. With offices in every Minnesota county, the service works closely with many farmers and other Minnesotans in agriculture-related occupations.
FFA also focuses on aspects of the agricultural industry such as sales, technology and farm management, as well as agricultural production, said Josh Tjosaas, a student assistant with the Extension Services and a former member of FFA.
Another major emphasis is on working closely with small communities to solve rural problems. During the convention, organizers are collecting food and clothing for victims of this year’s floods in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.
The collection effort, in which members of chapters from across the state bring food and clothes for the flood victims, is an example of the community aspect that FFA emphasizes in the organization, Klein said.
“There are a lot of towns affected,” said Ryan Erickson, a junior at Ada High School. Several buildings in Ada have been destroyed by the floods, including the high school and the hospital, he said, and the donated items will help in the rebuilding effort.