In fact, the EV-W chapter received the Membership Growth Award from the Minnesota FFA.
“I guess we’ve gotten the word out more about the different things we do,” she said. “It used to be that FFA was a group made up of all boys and most of them lived on farms. Today, half of the chapter are females and about two-thirds have farm backgrounds. The rest are just interested in what FFA has to offer.”
Those offerings include everything from leadership experiences such as public speaking to fun activities ranging from floral design to food contests. In many ways, FFA resembles what many of the members experienced in 4-H activities. And about half the chapter’s members participated in 4-H when they were younger, Huhn said.
The group recently had its year-end banquet and there was much to celebrate.
For one, Joe Gathje received the prestigious American Degree, and according to Huhn, fewer than 1 percent of all FFA members reach that level of distinction. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a member after initially earning the Greenhand Degree, Chapter Degree and then State Degree.
It’s an elaborate procedure that required filling out an application, an interview process and then tons of work. Looking back at EV-W chapter records, Gathje is the first to receive the honor since 1969.
“It’s a big deal,” Huhn said.
This year Joe Schmitz was awarded the State Degree as well. Joe is the son of John Schmitz, a local dairy farmer who himself earned the State Degree when he was a student at EV-W.
“They’re the only father-son combination that has received the award from our chapter,” Huhn said.
EV-W is part of Region 5 which consists of 25 chapters. Huhn said that while the chapters work together, there also is a degree of competitiveness.
Every year the EV-W chapters conducts a fruit sale in the fall to raise money so members can attend events and activities. If members sold $300 worth of fruit, they were able to attend a rodeo and 33 members achieved that level. If they reached a goal of $500 they also received an FFA jacket. Another 14 reached that level, Huhn said.
The FFA jacket – blue corduroy – is much the same as it was years ago. The only difference is members only wear the jackets as part of the group’s uniform, which includes black slacks and shoes, a white buttoned-down shirt and an FFA tie.
Another fundraiser the group takes part in is a test plot where corn and soybeans are grown. Seed is donated to the chapter and eight acres of land is rented at a great discount, Huhn said. The chapter does have to pay for fertilizer, but even after that expense of about $2,000 is deducted, the chapter still makes about $7,000, Huhn said.
It’s a wonderful experience where “students learn a little about farming” as well as economics, she said.
Huhn is a classic example of what a student can do with FFA experience. She grew up on a hog farm near Rush City, participated in FFA and held chapter office twice and participated in areas such as livestock judging and attended the FFA national convention in Kansas City. She received an agriculture education degree from the University of Minnesota because “I loved agriculture and I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.”
Huhn’s two older brothers were in FFA as well.
Recently Huhn applied for and received a $2,500 grant from the Food For All organization. That money will be used to plant 40 apple trees which have been purchased for a 2-1/2 acre school orchard. In three to five years it is hoped that not only will that orchard supply apples for use in the school cafeteria but also for nutritious snacks that students will be encouraged to pluck from the trees and eat.
Lessons learned from this experience will range from combating hunger to sustainability, Huhn said.
This year’s chapter was led by senior Anne Gathje, who was also a regional officer. She’s been active in FFA since her freshman year and is the daughter of John and sister of Joe. Joe attends school at South Dakota State in Brookings and Anne will join him there this fall. Anne will pursue a degree in agricultural education and is considering a career in teaching or some other agricultural related field.
“Ag education is such a broad field that you can do a lot with a degree in it.”
Anne Gathje said that the No. 1 attribute she gained from being in FFA was the leadership experience she was exposed to which “left a good impression on me.”
As part of being a regional officer, Gathje worked with “eight other great students from around the region.” In order to serve as a regional officer, one must file an application with the regional office and then be selected by a nominee committee which is made up of one member from each regional chapter.