FFA still growing in N.D.
Jayme Fiesel is a farm kid. Cody Lunde's parents work in factories. Both teens are stalwart members of FFA's growing - and odds-defying - North Dakota chapter. "You'd probably think, looking at the number of farms and students in the state, that ...
Jayme Fiesel is a farm kid. Cody Lunde's parents work in factories.
Both teens are stalwart members of FFA's growing - and odds-defying - North Dakota chapter.
"You'd probably think, looking at the number of farms and students in the state, that we're losing members. But we've expanded our programs, and our membership is growing," said Joel Lemer, who has advised the Carrington FFA chapter for 23 years.
Fiesel, Lunde and Lemer are among 1,300 people attending the North Dakota FFA chapter's 76th annual convention this week on the North Dakota State University campus.
The convention ends Friday.
FFA membership in North Dakota this year climbed to 4,752, the highest it's been since 1982, said Doug Vannurden, assistant state supervisor.
Over the same 23-year period, the number of farms in North Dakota fell from 36,000 to 30,000, and the number of public school students in the state fell from 117,000 to 99,000.
So how has the North Dakota FFA rebounded from its low point of about 3,500 members in 1989?
In a word, diversification.
FFA, known until 1988 as Future Farmers of America, was founded in 1928. It focused heavily on helping farm children improve their leadership skills and learn more about raising crops and livestock.
The organization still does those things.
But its 7,200 local chapters nationwide, including 76 in North Dakota, have branched out.
FFA now offers programs to prepare students for a wide range of agricultural-related careers - everything from sales to biotechnology.
The broader approach is working nationally. FFA membership across the country has risen to 482,000, a 25-year high.
However, membership in the Minnesota FFA has dropped from a high of about 17,000 in the late 1970s to about 8,600 today.
Rural Minnesota has lost population and political clout, which cuts into potential members and reduces funding for agricultural education, said Jim Ertl, FFA state executive director.
Still, the 176 Minnesota FFA chapters have much to offer high school students, he said.
Lunde said he's learned a great deal during his four years in the Maddock (N.D.) FFA chapter.
"I've become a lot more comfortable socializing with people, and my leadership skills have improved," he said.
Lunde, who just graduated from high school, may not even pursue a career in agriculture. He plans to study nursing at the University of North Dakota.
"No matter what I do, having been in FFA will really help me," he said.
Fiesel said FFA is often misunderstood by the public.
Despite what some people assume, the organization isn't exclusively, or even primarily, for farm kids, said the four-year Harvey FFA chapter member who just graduated from high school.
Only 27 percent of FFA members nationwide live on farms or in rural areas, according to the organization.
Fiesel, who grew up on a ranch, plans to attend North Dakota State University and become a veterinarian.
"But even if you don't have a farm background, FFA can really help you," she said.
Lemer, an FFA member himself in high school, said he's proud of what FFA has become.
"We're a strong organization with a lot to offer," he said.
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