>Montana FFA advisor blogs from Afghanistan

>From the Great Falls Tribune, http://bit.ly/gvP9o8

CHINOOK, Montana — Deployed in Afghanistan with the 219th RED HORSE Squadron, Chinook teacher Robin Allen may not be in a classroom, but she’s still found a way to educate her students.

Recently promoted to master sergeant, Allen has been in the military for 11 years, working as a structural craftsman. For the last four, she’s also taught eighth through 12th grade agriculture in Chinook and was the FFA advisor.

Not wanting to lose that connection with her students and community, Allen decided to post journal entries on the school’s website to update people as to what she was up to.

“Living in a small town, everyone likes to know what everyone is doing,” Allen wrote in an email to the Tribune. “I thought it would be great to have one place that I could send messages to and everyone could read them — family, friends, community, students, etc.”

Allen has posted blogs almost every two weeks since she left. While her entries share details about what she’s working on, they also describe what it’s like to live in Afghanistan.

In her first entry, she told the students how difficult it was for her eyes to adjust to the brightness of the sun. In another she described how an almost powdery layer of dust covers everything.

Webpage manager Paula Molyneaux said that students and teachers alike follow Allen’s updates.

“I think that it upped their awareness to have one in our staff shipped out,” Molyneaux said. “Really, that’s what Robin wanted. This was for them to be aware that she was over there and what was happening — to give them a bigger picture of what’s going on in the world.”

Allen is currently working on four projects to prepare for the next special forces group to come and take over. Her team is inventorying tools and equipment and doing repairs around the compound, including tinning a roof, sheathing a porch roof and adding some trusses and laying a deck. She expects to leave in the next month.

To read Allen’s blog go to http://www.chinookschools.org/.


>Kiwanis Key Leader Program


Not everyone is able to attend National FFA conferences. Schedules, traveling and money are often tough challenges to overcome. National FFA Organization recognizes that there are numerous opportunities for our members to learn and grow their leadership potential and some of them occur in their own backyards! Kiwanis Key Leader is one such program.

Kiwanis Key Leader is a weekend experiential leadership program for today’s youth leaders. It focuses on service leadership as the first, most meaningful leadership development experience. By participating in a hands-on weekend event, Key Leaders learn that leadership comes from helping others succeed. The program is designed to identify and empower emerging student leaders and move them beyond where most other leadership programs end.

Small and large group workshops, discussions and team-building activities take place over the course of these weekend retreats. Students learn leadership skills that will help them to change their schools and communities for the better. While exploring leadership in a new way, participants will make amazing new friends and have experiences they will never forget. According to one Key Leader graduate, Key Leader “awakened the real me. I was able to gain the self-confidence I never had.”

Since 2005 there have been more than 13,500 Key Leader graduates throughout the United States, Canada, Grand Cayman, Brazil, El Salvador and Malaysia. For Key Leader locations and dates, stories from Key Leader graduates, and registration information visit http://www.key-leader.org/, or find them on facebook at www.facebook.com/keyleaders.

>Minnesota FFA chapter tackles issues of hunger, poverty at banquet

>[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/goJGgq3EcAI%5D

The Plainview-Elgin-Millville FFA chapter in Minnesota recently hosted a Hunger Banquet at their school to help their classmates gain a greater understanding of hunger and poverty.

At a hunger banquet,guests draw tickets at random that assign them each to either a high-,
middle-, or low-income tier–based on the latest statistics about the number of people living in poverty. Each income level receives a corresponding meal: the 15 percent in the high-income tier are served a sumptuous meal; the 35 percent in the middle-income section eat a simple meal of rice and beans; and the 50 percent in the low-income tier help themselves to small portions of rice and water. Guests can also assume characterizations that describe the situation of a specific person at the income level to which they’ve been assigned. Finally, all guests are invited to share their thoughts after the meal.

FFA member Kimberly Wingard says she first participated in a hunger banquet when she attended FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference.


Are you interested in hosting a hunger banquet at your school?

Free resources are available through Oxfam America.

>FFA leads former member to interesting career in entomology research

>Today, special guest blogger Candice Rogers writes about how FFA led her to where she is today.


I am so grateful to have stumbled into ag and most importantly my local chapter of the FFA my freshman year at Wasco High School.

It was a stroke of fate that all of the regular biology classes filled up and the only biology class left was ag bio. I was reluctant to partake in the “ag” side of the bio class at first, because I was ignorant about where my food came from and didn’t give ag people the respect they deserved.

Luckily, my ag bio teacher gave me a little push when he encouraged me to enter the agri-science fair. The rest was history as I climbed my way from the tiny Kern county Agri-science fair to the National Agri-science fair held in Kentucky.

It was unlike anything I ever experienced, royal blue everywhere, like a vast ocean, and I dove right in. I learned that FFA isn’t just for ranch hands and people who grew up on a farm. Before high school, I had no experience with agriculture. Now, I am 25, the entomology research coordinator for one of the top ag companies in the world and so grateful to attribute the foundation of my knowledge to FFA.

As entomology research coordinator, basically I am responsible for carrying out and supervising all the research that goes on in our lab; it’s like a lab supervisor position except some of the experiments I help design and conduct myself. So not only do I get to make the visions of our research leader come alive, I also get to use my creative mind to think of new issues we can tackle. I work with major almond and pistachio insect pests and try to figure out how to eradicate them in the most cost efficient yet environmentally responsible way possible.

Integrated pest management is the future of farming. I have a bachelor’s of science in biology, eight years’ experience in agriculture research, as well as about 45 units worth of agriculture science from a community college. I will also be getting my PCA license this year.

Today I want more people to get the same opportunities as I had. I want to encourage every high school student to become involved with FFA; you will not regret a minute of it!

Your food doesn’t just come from the grocery store, in fact, that was only one short leg of its journey. Knowledge is power, what you know could shape your entire life. My new goal is to educate others about the value of the responsible producers and sustainably grown produce.

Read more about me at my blog, http://theoldladyatheart.blogspot.com/.

Candice Rogers is a former FFA member and National Agriscience Fair winner from Wasco FFA, California. She currently works in the agriculture industry and credits FFA for much of her success.
Think you might be interested in a career as an entomologist? Check out this job description to find out what it takes!

>Congratulations 2011 Ag Day Essay Contest winners!


Missouri FFA member Nora Faris recently won the 2011 Ag Day Essay Contest. Read her essay below or on the Ag Day website.
Their faces peer out at me from the glossy cover of a magazine, the bold headline touting them as “America’s Most Valuable People”. Among their ranks are political pundits, ingenious inventors, humble humanitarians, and a host of other charismatic characters. Their varied accomplishments reflect a time-tested tradition of hard work and good ol’ American ingenuity, but their lofty title as our country’s “most valuable” citizens makes me wonder. Would Americans perish from “technological withdrawal” if Steve Jobs discontinued the iPad? No. Would a national crisis ensue if Lady GaGa retired from performing? I don’t think so. If Mark Zuckerberg terminated Facebook, would the world as we know it cease to exist? I think not.

Then it occurs to me: America’s “Most Valuable People” aren’t found on magazine covers. Rather, they are found in farm fields, feed stores, and livestock barns. They are American farmers, a group whose labors, although largely unrecognized, are vital to the lives of all U.S. citizens – or at least the ones that eat.

In this modern age of supermarkets and 24-hour fast food restaurants, it has become increasingly hard for the American public to fathom where their food comes from. Long gone are the days when a chicken dinner meant selecting a bird from the henhouse. Today’s consumer, faced with an endless array of choices, selects their poultry with little knowledge of its origin, unaware of the work that went into producing and dispatching the bird. They fail to realize the vital connection between farm and food, between production and consumption. Little do they realize that without our nation’s strong agricultural infrastructure of farmers, their grocery store shelves would be bare.

As America’s population continues to grow, a farmer’s job is to keep up with the escalating demand for food. They will have to play multiple roles in their quest to provide nutritious, affordable products for more than 300 million Americans. Farmers will become inventors, developing devices that will improve crop yields and abolish dated farming practices. They will become delegates for agriculture, lobbying for the advancement of farming in their legislatures. Most importantly, farmers will become naturalists, determining the best solutions for responsible soil, water, and resource management.

Although it’s unlikely that a soybean farmer from Kansas will ever steal Kim Kardashian’s VIP publicity, their true importance to their fellow citizens cannot be denied. American farmers’ dedication to maintaining an unrivaled level of food security makes them our nation’s “Most Valuable People”, even if they drive a Case instead of a Cadillac.

>New York FFA members help look after soldier’s vineyard

>Five members of the Belleville Henderson FFA Chapter in New York helped prune a vineyard owned by Staff Sergeant Tom Williams from Fort Drum, New York. Sergeant Williams has been serving in Afghanistan for a year.

The event was coordinated by the Northern New York Grape Growers Association. Twenty-five volunteers trimmed grape vines to ensure the plants remain healthy while Sergeant Williams is away.

Pruning vineyards is important because it stimulates growth of the vines and the grapes.

FFA members Schuyler D., Jake A., Morgan D., Kate G., and Taylor S. helped prune the vineyard and tie grape vine to trellis wire.

Their FFA advisor is Steve Jones.

Want to learn more about pruning grapes? Check out this video:

>A Chicago-based high school teams up with an FFA chapter to study biofuels


Agriculture students from Mendota have found some friends in the big city, thanks to some old fry grease.

Both the Mendota High School FFA Chapter and the Whitney Young Magnet High School Biodiesel Club are interested in producing and promoting renewable fuels made from used cooking oil.

WYMHS math teacher/biodiesel club sponsor Brian Sievers said the five members of the WYMHS Biodiesel Club built a biodiesel processor and had enough materials left to build a second one. And the students wanted to share one with a school that didn’t have access to as many resources, he said.

And so the first student-to-student exchange between the club and the Mendota FFA chapter was set for March 4.

The Mendota FFA chapter had considered building a biodiesel processor and now not only will gain a system but also expertise from fellow high school students through the exchange.

“It will be a great experience for our kids to see their research and hear their perspective,” said Jeff Landers, Mendota High School ag teacher and adviser to the 70-member FFA chapter. “Our students are very excited about this opportunity.”

Landers plans to integrate the biodiesel processor into his agriscience classes and the biodiesel use into his ag mechanics classes.

FFA chapter members will use the biodiesel in farm equipment used on their 18-acre land lab, where they grow corn, soybeans, pumpkins, squash and gourds.

The Whitney Young club collected used cooking oil, built one biodiesel processor and produced biodiesel. Club members tested the emissions of their fuel at an Illinois Department of Transportation vehicle testing facility in Chicago.

At the same facility, they conducted tests that compared a vehicle’s performance on diesel with the biodiesel they made from new oil and used cooking oil.

The students reported the biodiesel reduced emissions by about 80 percent when compared to using diesel in the same vehicle.

Want to find out more about biofuels? Visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory website.

>Chapter Challenge set to enter week No. 3


We’re nearing the end of week No. 2 in the 2011 FFA Chapter Challenge and the John Glenn High School FFA Chapter in Walkerton, Ind., is in the lead with 203 votes from local farmers in their community. Missouri’s West Plains High School FFA Chapter in West Plains is in second place with 186 votes.

There are 146 FFA chapters currently participating in this year’s Chapter Challenge, a pilot competition sponsored by Monsanto that is open to chapters in in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Georgia and Alabama and started March 7. The competition challenges FFA members to connect with local farmers in their communities, learn about their operations and connect them to their FFA chapter. In turn, farmers are asked to vote for their favorite FFA chapter online before May 1.

The top 125 chapters in the seven-state area that get the most votes will each receive a $1,500 credit line to buy FFA-related items and materials and use to cover costs associated with attending national FFA events.

The top vote-getting chapter will also receive a grand prize — an all-expenses-paid trip for six FFA members and an adult advisor to October’s 2011 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis.

For participating in the Chapter Challenge, each state FFA association will receive $1,500 cash.

Check out the competition at www.FFAChapterChallenge.com.