Growing interest

Webster City High School students will be driving their tractors to school and dressing up this week for National FFA week.

Kurt Veldhuizen, Webster City FFA advisor, said wearing the chapter’s t-shirts or dressing up as cowgirls and cowboys during the week are things that members can do to show pride in the organization that helps students develop their agricultural knowledge and professional leadership skills.

Other activities during the week include a student and faculty cookout on Thursday and an annual ski trip to Minnesota at the end of the week. Webster City FFA will also host a donkey basketball tournament at Webster City Middle School sponsored by Webster City FFA alumni on Feb. 28. Veldhuizen said the money raised from tournament ticket sales will go toward scholarship funds for high school students.

“It’s my vision, and I believe the alumni’s vision as well, to see every high school FFA member graduate with a FFA scholarship,” Veldhuizen said.

Adding to FFA’s busy week are the sub-district conferences on Wednesday where students will compete in the first stage of several speaking based events. Veldhuizen said FFA members have spent countless hours in the past two months preparing for events which include conducting a mock FFA meeting, reciting the five-paragraph FFA creed, demonstrating parliamentary procedure, public speaking, a mock job interview and more. About 20 students from the Webster City FFA will compete for the chance to go to district and possibly state contests in those events.

The organization has changed over the years. The name itself, which used to stand for for Future Farmers of America, was changed in 1988 to the National FFA Organization. Veldhuizen said the change better represents the landscape of modern agriculture.

“In today’s world, less than 20 percent of the ag workforce is production farming. The rest is research, development, sales, distribution, all those different areas. We changed the name to tap into that other source of students that we were missing and that we need in agriculture,” Veldhuizen said.

The Webster City chapter of FFA is reflective of the organization as a whole. Membership in the organization has risen steadily every year, according to Veldhuizen, and now has a roster of 93 members. Those members are almost equally divided between those who live in town and those who live on acreage or a farm. Veldhuizen said he tells his students that one of the largest FFA chapters in the country is in downtown Chicago with an exclusively urban group of members.

The Webster City chapter is also about equal parts male and female, with many of the latter group stepping up to leadership positions. Webster City FFA also has some hispanic participation. Veldhuizen said that diversity is good for the organization, which is stereotyped as being largely consistent of white, male farmers.

FFA is a co-curricular organization at Webster City High School. That means it is taught during the school day. A student must be enrolled in at least one agriculture class in order to join FFA. However, that is just one facet of the organization. Veldhuizen said what FFA aims to give its members is encompassed in a three-part venn diagram model. Classroom learning as one part. The other two parts come from the leadership skills that students gain during FFA meetings and individual member projects.

Chapter meetings, as well as the organization at large, are student run. Veldhuizen said his role as advisor is to make sure that students are making sound, legal decisions. Aside from that, students have all the power.

Meetings are conducted in a professional manner. First, there are opening ceremonies where each officer states their duties. Reports from the secretary and treasurer are read, and then old business is addressed. Later, the chapter discusses new business and then ends the meeting with closing ceremonies. FFA also places importance on health and lifestyle. Students take time for basketball, four square or other activities after meetings to socialize with other members.

Completing the three parts that make up FFA are supervised agricultural experience (SAE) projects. Each member is required to have a SAE project, which they choose themselves. Veldhuizen said younger students will often take exploratory projects, which can range from documenting time they work in the school’s greenhouse to helping family members on a farm and more. Older members are encouraged to explore more rigorous experiences such as raising and selling cattle or produce. Members can also use work at grocery stores with diary and produce being related to food science.

The Webster City chapter has grown to 93 members from 73 last year, and Veldhuizen said the student members who run the show are largely to thank.

“That’s a great sign and I think it’s not just a sign of what I’m doing but also what the kids are doing. The members and officers take a lot of pride in what they do in being involved with running the organization,” Veldhuizen said.