By Sheila McCoy, Staff Writer
History was made when the National FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) officer team visited Upsala, Jan. 8. It will be about 50 years before a National FFA officer team will visit Minnesota again, as each year they pick a different state in the U.S. to visit.
“The National FFA officers coming here is kind of like a meteor hitting our chapter. It’s so rare. For us to have their presence here is outstanding,” said Gretchen Schleper, agriculture teacher at the Upsala High School.
McKenzie Barth, Region II secretary and president for the Upsala FFA chapter, said the FFA organization is youth-led and focuses on career success, personal growth and premier leadership.
“The FFA has changed my life. A good friend of mine asked me to join. It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.
Barth is a senior at Upsala High School and joined the Upsala FFA chapter in 2010.
“It’s so exciting to have the national officers here. It’s a very unique experience to be a part of. I’m also looking forward to hearing what they have to say,” she said.
Each year, a team of national officers are selected at the National FFA Convention and Expo, held in various cities and states.
FFA Education Specialist Keisto Lucero, who travels with the group, said each state selects one candidate to go to the convention to hopefully become one of the national officers. The 50 candidates go through a round of eight interviews, in which they are scored on certain competencies.
“They are scored in areas such as character, teamwork, areas of knowledge, ability to influence and critical thinking. Six students are then elected to represent the organization as National FFA officers,” he said.
The 2015-2016 national officers come from Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, Utah and Ohio.
Lucero said the national officers basically take a year off from college to do the duties of the national officers. It’s also a great opportunity for the officers to improve in various areas, such as public speaking.
“I’m also here to watch and evaluate their presentations and workshops. Afterward, I give them feedback as to what they did well and what they can improve,” Lucero said.
While the National FFA officers don’t get paid to fulfill their duties, the FFA organization pays for all the expenses.
“Expenses like food, hotel and travel. They also get an allowance for necessities,” Lucero said.
He said the national officers travel for 300 days, covering approximately 150,000 miles, influencing thousands of FFA members and supporters.
In the evening, the Upsala FFA chapter hosted a banquet for the national officers. It was filled with typical Minnesota hot dishes with food that has been grown in Minnesota, from potatoes from the Red River Valley to honey from a local bee farmer. Though lutefisk was not on the menu for the evening, National Officer Nick Baker said he had hoped for it to be served. It was a dish he had heard much about, but had never tasted.
“The food here is very good,” he said.
The Upsala FFA chapter shared a presentation with the national officers of different things their chapter has done, like raising money to buy 20 Chromebooks for the agriculture classroom.
“That has worked out great. We use them every day,” said Schleper.
The national officers also gave a keynote address, sharing some of their own experiences and answering questions.
The evening was topped off with a special tour of the Roerview Dairy farm just outside Upsala. The farm recently put in a robotic milking system.
The following day was packed with the workshops the national officers were holding. An ag food science competition was also held the same day at the Upsala High School.
The hospitality the Upsala FFA chapter showed the visiting group was well received.
“It’s an honor to come into a place where people are so genuinely welcoming and kind,” said Lucero.