Saturday, June 17, 2017

Just Jump In

After nine months of school and a seemingly endless winter, I am so glad summer has finally arrived! I love to get outside with friends and enjoy the great Minnesota lakes and woods. One of my favorite summer adventures happened last year as school ended. Along with a group of friends, I embarked on a journey to Lake Superior so we could spend a few days together before we would head our separate ways as our summers became filled with work, camps, and activities.

The six of us began our trip by hiking at Gooseberry Falls and rolling up our pants to wade in the icy river. We continued on our road trip until we reached our destination for the week: Honeyrock, a unique cabin set right on the rocky Superior shore. We spent the next few days exploring boulders on the beaches, hiking on the cliffs looking out hundreds of feet above the lake, singing every song we knew together, and watching the shooting stars at night. I was content with how our week was going, but my friend Noah wasn't quite satisfied. He was looking for more thrills and more daring adventures. Noah decided we should take the plunge and jump into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. Because we were fearless explorers, we agreed hesitantly to his request. 

After much persuasion, we stood in our swimsuits huddled on the rocks as the icy waves rolled into the bay. I was less than thrilled about the idea of jumping into the arctic waters, but after lots of encouragement, I stood out on the edge of the boulders in the chilly wind. I didn't know what to expect jumping in. How cold would it really be? Would I be able to get out again before I turned into a popsicle? As I paused at the edge of the rock seriously considering heading back to the shore, a chorus of “Go!” “Just jump” and “Do it for the adventure!” rang out from my friends on shore. So I just jumped in. The water was colder than I thought water could be without freezing, and I raced out of the lake to the shore. Though it wasn't necessarily a comfortable experience, I smiled and laughed with my friends after it was over. We were glad we had tried something new and hadn't settled for the usual adventures.

In the same way, we often forget that we have new, incredible opportunities around us all the time. As summer starts and we go on to our own adventures, whether it be showing animals at the fair, going to camp, or hanging out with friends, we need to remember to seek out new things and to really plunge into new opportunities. Sometimes we need to leave our comfort zones, and sometimes the water will be cold, but in the end we only have one life to live. So just jump in and try something new this summer. Find something that you have always wanted to do and give it a whirl! When is the last time you did something for the first time?

Stationed by the rising sun,


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ashby creates garden of opportunity and experience

Ashby creates garden of opportunity and experience
By Katherine Gathje
Guest blogger and Eden Valley-Watkins FFA Member

Ashby School District agriculture instructor and FFA advisor had an idea a few years ago to make his instruction more hands on. His vivid idea is now a garden which doubles as a food source and instruction tool for the students in the PreK-12 school. Dustin Steenblock is the agriculture instructor at Ashby High School, his love of agriculture started young. The upbringing on his parent’s farm helped him get where he is and wants to give students some of those same opportunities.
The Ashby School garden complex is comprised of a 100 foot x 100 foot garden, a 30 foot x 36 foot high tunnel, and eight raised garden beds for community use. There are also composting systems and storage, prairie garden raised beds, and a 24 tree apple and plum orchard. To top it off, there is an outdoor classroom consisting of raised vegetable garden beds, rain collection system, and a 10 foot  x 20 foot indoor grow/starter room. All of this is managed by the students and Steenblock.
“We give the kids the opportunity to help them find what they are going to succeed in life,” said Steenblock.
The majority of the work done with the gardens is by the sustainable agriculture class offered to the students. The class curriculum was developed and added to the high school schedule for the 2011-2012 school year in a trial, semester-long course. The class has been popular and has continued to be offered by the district ever since. Instruction includes multiple forms of learning and settings. Units of the course were very encompassing and included skills for small scale production and processing of goods, with a heavy concentration on vegetables, as
well as focusing on creating and the benefits of a fresh, local, and healthy food supply.
Steenblock said the classes work to provide as much of the produce to the students and staff as possible. Some of the plants like their tomatoes will not start growing until the late summer and fall that way more students can help with the harvesting and preserving. Other produce is planted in the spring, and what cannot be preserved for the next school year is sold at local farmers markets and brought to the food shelf.
The school is able to maintain their hands on learning by having all the students PreK-12 in one building. There are about 20 students per grade keeping the teacher student ratio low. As for FFA, their successful program includes about 50 members from grades 8-12.
Over 260 Students, 40 staff, and eight community garden families are directly impacted by the program and gardens. Students and staff create a sustainable, local food supply on school grounds by taking ownership in the entire process of growing the food. One of Steenblock’s favorite aspects of gardening is seeing the tiny seed planted eight weeks ago bloom into something that will eventually provide nourishment for others. This produce, partially processed by students, creates a healthy supplement to meals and snacks served at school.
The garden site also supplements instruction in every grade of the school. A large portion of that is for K-2 and 11-12. This instruction focuses on aspects of vegetable planting, growth, maintenance, insect relationships, processing, and consumption with the greatest benefits coming from the hands-on experiences.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pakou Hang + Hmong Farmers

Pakou Hang + Hmong Farmers
Written by guest blogger, Erin Larson

Minnesota has one of the largest Hmong-American populations in the United States.

By 1980, Hmong farmers moved to the metro areas of Minnesota, revitalizing the urban farmers markets. Hmong refugees settled from Laos and Thailand to Minnesota following the Vietnam War.

Pakou Hang speaking at the Minnesota FFA Convention
“Wherever [Hmongs] have gone, Hmong people have farmed,” said Pakou Hang, executive director and co-founder of Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA).

Pakou spoke at the second general session of the 2017 Minnesota FFA Convention. In her keynote address, Pakou spoke on behalf of Hmong farmers and their role in Minnesota agriculture.  

“It is great to work in agriculture, a field that encourages people to grow, produce and provide food for others,” said Pakou.

Pakou has worked for more than 12 years as a community organizer and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a Masters in Political Science. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1999.

Pakou works closely with Minnesota Hmong farmers, particularly on the HAFA farm.

The farm is a 155-acre research and incubator farm, just 15 miles south of St. Paul, near Minnesota Highway 52. HAFA sub-leases the land to its members while maintaining research and demonstration plots to provide continuing education in sustainable agricultural practices to its member-farmers.

“We grow traditional crops found in Minnesota in addition to Oriental crops,” said Pakou.

The HAFA Farm began in 2013. Since it’s start, HAFA has begun implementing sustainable agricultural practices such as composting, succession planting, installing grass roadways and laying of erosion blankets. The HAFA farm has a plan for bees, supplying a whole farm pollinator.

In 2011, HAFA implemented numerous bicultural and bilingual trainings, to become better land stewards. Hmong farmers are committed to building healthy farms that takes into consideration of soil and water quality, biodiversity, farmer and consumer health and economic sustainability.

According to a recent study, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Hmong American farmers make up over half of all producers at farmers markets in the Twin Cities’ metropolitan area. Nearly 40 percent of the food produced at the HAFA farm go to a the farmers markets. The remaining 60 percent remain within the Twin Cities, donated to more than 120 schools and community groups.

“We farm for the same purpose as the large-scale farmer,” said Pakou . “We value the importance to feed people.”

To learn more about HAFA, visit their page on Facebook – Hmong American Farmers Association.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mr. Charles Funk, retired agricultural education teacher

Mr. Charles Funk, retired agricultural education teacher
written by guest blogger, Erin Larson

The average Minnesota FFA member attends two state FFA conventions during their time in FFA. Charles Funk has attended 53 state FFA conventions -- consecutively.
Charles Funk, a retired agricultural educator, grew up in Sebeka where he attended school and got involved with the FFA chapter. At the age of 16, Charles was planning to quit school. That fall, he attended the National FFA Convention in Kansas City, Mo.
“At the time, National FFA had a quota on the number of students that were able to attend,” said Charles. “It was either the 10 percent of membership or six students, whichever was greater.”
Charles’ friend, Tom, who later became Minnesota FFA State President, encouraged him to go to the National FFA Convention.
Charles said, at first he couldn’t put his experience into words.
“It was undoubtedly the best students who attended convention because of the quota restriction,” said Charles.
Charles graduated with an agricultural education degree from the University of Minnesota in 1971. His teaching experiences span from 1970 to 2011.
“I taught at Motley High School, before they merged with Staples for 16 years,” said Charles. “After Staples, I taught at Sebeka for 20 years.”
Following his time at Sebeka, Charles taught an independent class for five years at the Menahga High School.
“I was teaching when many of these [current] ag teachers were students,” said Charles . “As they’ve grown up, we’ve become co-equals. It adds a competitive side to it, too.
Charles has witnessed the transformation of state convention and Minnesota FFA over the years.
“I’m an FFA junkie,” said Charles.
From solely being on the St. Paul campus to expanding to the Minneapolis side, Charles navigates through the University of Minnesota every April.
“[Minnesota FFA] has more students involved, resulting in a need to expand beyond the St. Paul campus,” said Charles. “There was usually a catered banquet to the awards ceremony. The general sessions were in the gymnasium, and the talent show was in the North Star Ballroom.”

The growth excites Charles. There are more opportunities for students to be involved with proficiencies, Career Development Events and leadership workshops.
“Because of FFA, I went from a kid who was going to quit school to a life-long learner,” said Charles..
Through his involvement in FFA and service, Charles received the Honorary American FFA Degree. He was awarded the degree when the first female National FFA President, Jan Eberly, served.
Although Charles is retired, he still remains involved and connected with the local FFA chapters. This past year, Charles helped with the Staples-Motley FFA Chapter officer interviews. He played a role to nominate the Sebeka school superintendent to serve on the Minnesota FFA Association adult board.
Charles is married to Cheryl Funk and father to Edric, Aaron, Sarah, Stephen, Maria and Paul. Edric and Stephen served as Minnesota state FFA officers. His son-in-law, Miles was awarded the Stars Over America in Ag Placement when he was a member. Stephen and Maria are agricultural education teachers in Mountain Lake and Menahga, respectively.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Defining Your Blue Jacket

It was a cool, crisp fall afternoon during my freshman year of high school right after region greenhand day, and I was pumped to kickstart my time as an FFA member. That afternoon, my agriculture teacher, Mrs. Tauzell, pulled me aside and told me about an opportunity to earn my very own blue corduroy jacket. I knew I wanted to be involved in FFA, and once I had seen all of the cool region officers sporting their own jackets at greenhand day, I realized I wanted one of my own. I immediately took the application for our state’s incredible “Blue Jackets, Bright Futures” Program, ran home and started filling it out. Within a couple days, I read over what I had written down, typed it up, mailed it in and waited for what felt like an eternity… I was on my way to potentially earning my own jacket and I couldn’t be more excited!

About a month later, Mrs. T asked to chat with me after class - I thought I was going to be in trouble or something! But to my surprise, she said “Congratulations Joe! You earned your very own blue jacket! I’m going to order it tonight and it’ll be here before you compete in Creed!” In that moment, I was as happy as a clam. I was about to get a jacket with my name on it - what more could little ninth grade Joe ask for? I was so grateful for my advisor for telling me about the program and for the individual sponsors working with the Minnesota State FFA Foundation for sponsoring the jacket, and I still am to this day.

My brand new, crispy blue jacket arrived just one week later, and I was stoked. After school, I anxiously opened up the box like a little kid on Christmas Day  and to my surprise, something seemed a little odd at a first glance. I looked at the name sewn into my new jacket, looked at Mrs. T, then looked back down at the name again. “Hey Mrs. T,” I muttered, “I don’t think my name is spelt right…”

She took a look at the new jacket and said, “No, it’s gotta be right! Sometimes the cursive is just a bit hard to read! Let’s see… J-O-E R-A-M-S-T-... wait…” She soon realized I was right, my name had been sewn in as Joe Ramsted rather than Joe Ramstad. The smiles and enthusiasm we had shared moments ago as the package was opened soon transformed into looks of slight despair and confusion. She assured me that we could send it back or have it resewn at National Convention, but I didn’t want that - my jacket was perfect just the way it was because it was special to me. I decided to keep it as is. Looking back now, I am so glad that I left my jacket the way it was. But why?

My first jacket taught me that as FFA members, our jackets don’t have the power to define us, but rather, we have the power to define our jackets. No matter if we have our very own jacket or if we are borrowing a sibling’s jacket, a friend’s jacket, or in some cases, even one of our parent’s jackets, the name, title or honors sewn on those jackets do not define us - we must define and give purpose to our jackets through our thoughts and actions. When we give purpose to our jackets, we are able to make a difference in the world. FFA is not about the titles, awards, honors or even the name that may be stitched into our jacket; it is about nurturing growth in each and every member, and this growth cannot be measured on an officer application or on a resume. Rather, it is measured in our hearts.

How will you define your jacket? This is a pretty heavy question, but it is one we each need to take time to think about. Whether this upcoming state convention will be your first or your last, think about how you are going to define your jacket. Will the pride you have as you hang up your blue jacket come from the awards you have earned or will this pride come from the lifelong skills you have learned? Will this pride be defined based on what office you attain or will it be a product of the relationships you have built through demonstrating authentic leadership? Will this pride be instilled in you from the milestones you have reached in the jacket or instilled from the milestones you have helped your fellow members achieve?

We each have the opportunity to define our FFA journeys and our blue jackets. Before I hang up my blue jacket in a couple of weeks, I want to say how grateful I am for the constant support, encouragement and love FFA members like yourselves have given me throughout my FFA journey from the moment I zipped up my “Joe Ramsted” FFA jacket back in 2011. Whatever may or may not be sewn on our jackets should not be what defines our FFA experience because I know that they were far from defining mine.

For the Final Time - Stationed by the Door,
SO Signature Transparent.png
Joe Ramstad

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Blessed Beyond Measure

Blessings. A beneficial thing for which one is grateful. It’s a word I grew up with, but never considered. A word that always surrounded me, but who’s individual acts I never recognized. In the last 345 days, I’ve had endless “Blessed Beyond Measure” moments. From day to day, I lose track of how often I feel content, full, and overjoyed. From day to day, I lose count of the times I feel blessed. Many people refer to their blessings with three words: “Faith, Family, and Love.” I’ve noticed my blessings come in the shape of People, Principle, and Possibility.

“I am convinced that different people awaken different beasts in you.” Every time my cousin Colton came home from football, he reminded me of how much of a beast he is. He’d pull up his sleeves and glance from one buff arm to the other. Colton took pride in his “beastliness;” his strength was one of his many attributes. Although sports brought out a genuine pride in Colton, there was so much more to him. Since fifth grade, he chased after his fiancĂ©, Nikki, with more heart than I’ve ever seen in a boy, and now a man. I can still remember our car rides home from youth group, which were filled with big brother moments anytime I mentioned a boy. Like Colton, we are each filled with multiple attributes, or “beasts.” As I traveled around Minnesota this year, I noticed “beastliness” in me I never knew was there. What I find pretty wild is that each of you brought out a different “beast” in me. My homegirl, Megan Stich from Royalton, brings out the believer in me. With each hug from Megan, I know that my goals and dreams matter just as much as anyone else’s. Scott Folz of Willmar reminds me of how hungry I am to be better. Each day, Scott works to improve his skills as a leader and grow membership in his chapter. Kierra Carter from Hancock, shows a quiet but rambunctious soul. Watching her grow at the State Greenhand Leadership Conference and recently be elected to the Region III Officer team reflected my own spirit of sweet surprise. Mitch Morris from AFSA brings out the quirky confidence in me. From Skype chats to replicating the same picture every time we see each other, Mitch lives all in without the concern of what others think. I’m blessed because of the “beasts” people have helped me identify.
Mitch and Sophie in the original "quirky" picture

Principle: a kind of rule, belief, or idea that guides you. My adventures in the blue jacket have given me belief after belief, many of which I have adapted for myself. I believe in the future of agriculture, and the leadership it requires to reach that desired future. Each day, I live by the rule that I can improve, because FFA members don’t give up. I also live by the idea that FFA is a place where everyone can hang their hat. Over and over again, FFA members have proven this belief to me. Abby Stumpner from AFSA has a knack for science, and found her niche in the state and national AgriScience Fair. Josie Lang of Sleepy Eye and Anna Zwach of Tracy have a love for random dance moves and “adventure hats.” Their unique personalities found each other and prove to be one of the best friendships I’ve seen come out of our organization. Some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, result from Minnesota FFA members. They open my mindset and give me beliefs that define who I am. My principle has been established through my faith and the blue and gold – I couldn’t be more blessed.

Like Shawna, my first FFA jacket
was the first of many possibilities.
“All things are possible to him who believes;” Mark 9:23. Walt Disney was famous for believing in dreams, and more than ever, Minnesota FFA members are turning dreams into reality. Believing in your end goal can make your future much more achievable. I realized this at my first state convention. State President, Shawna Conrad, was giving her retiring address. At one point, she shared the story of owning her first FFA jacket, something she never thought would be possible – yet she did it. This is exactly what I needed to hear to believe that I too, could make more things possible. Soon, I was building my future like it was going to be bigger than the White House. My mind wasn’t set on what I could do, but what I would do. Five years in FFA gave me the principle to believe in a customized future and the tools to make it possible. Because I believe in possibilities, not just dreams, I am blessed.

Blessings. A beneficial thing for which one is grateful. According to the definition, I believe each one of us is blessed. Take time to notice the people who bring out your best “beasts,” the principles you’ve decided or want to live by, and the possibility you have to form your future. I benefited from and am grateful for people, principle, and possibility. You too, can be blessed by the same things. Today, thank those people, write down your principles, and map out your possibilities.

Last but not least, thank you – it’s because of each of you I know I am blessed beyond measure.

For the Final Time - Stationed by the Flag,

Rebekka Paskewitz
Minnesota FFA Reporter

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What is right for you?

From day one we are asked, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” Many of us probably had similar answers: firefighter, police officer, or, my response, a football player. I wish I could follow through with what I said when I was five, but sadly I can’t. Then early in high school, the question changes to, “What college are you going to?” Most people answer that question with a four-year university or “I don’t know.”

Mike Rowe, most known from his show Dirty Jobs, has a very interesting view on the college decision high schoolers make. He is a big advocate for trade school and the jobs they provide, which are typically looked down upon by filmmakers and sometimes even high schools. Mike Rowe talked about how most people employed in trade areas are depicted in movies as overweight, unintelligent, and lazy. Anyone who has watched Dirty Jobs, which I have a lot, has seen the people in those positions are hard working people who just prefer to work with their hands. He also shares how there isn’t actually a job shortage, there is a labor shortage. Most people are being overqualified for the actual jobs being created. If you go on Facebook or YouTube, you can find videos where Mike Rowe is advocating for some form of higher education. In his words, “without higher education, you are doomed. However, don’t mistake a higher education for a four-year university.”

I am not saying that four-year universities are the wrong choice. I love attending and getting my education from South Dakota State University. However, I believe that too many people are choosing four-year schools with no idea for a future career path because “it’s what everyone else is doing.” Community colleges are a great way to get your general education classes at a much lower cost and gives you the opportunity to find out what you want to do for a future career. However, most importantly, you have to find the form of higher education that is right for you. That can be an apprenticeship, community/technical college, or university. The form that is right for me is a university. What is right for you?

For the final time, Stationed by the Emblem of Washington,

Clay Newton
Minnesota FFA State Treasurer