Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why FFA Week is really all about YOU!

Hey guess what! I have a question for you!
Who is FFA Week about?
Is it about our chapters? Is it about our state officers? How about our advisors? Chapter officers?
Well the answer is simple. You.
Yes, you. This great week that sparks millions of social media posts around the country is entirely and completely about you.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you!
Harmon Wilts is dedicated to connecting community members with their local FFA programs and helping those FFA programs grow. He is currently serving as the Minnesota FFA Alumni President and shares the importance of giving back and supporting this generation of FFA members. He is what FFA Week is all about.
Brandon Roiger is a college student at the University of Minnesota. Two years ago he served as the Minnesota FFA State Reporter. Even a couple years removed from his office, he continues to find ways to serve Minnesota FFA, whether he is facilitating conferences, working as a recreational director, working on the Convention News, or writing curriculum. He is giving back even after his time in FFA. He is what FFA Week is all about.
Paul Aarsvold has two jobs. He is a full-time Ag Teacher/FFA advisor, and he’s also a full-time dad…to my siblings and me. As a teacher, he puts in time preparing lesson plans, provides resources for Career Development Event teams, and guides his chapter. As a parent, he offers wisdom and guidance to his children and helps them in all of their FFA (and non-FFA) endeavors. He is what FFA Week is all about.
Kyra Nichols is a 10th grader in the Zumbrota-Mazeppa FFA Chapter. She has taken an active role in developing her leadership skills by attending numerous conferences on the region and state level. She works hard at practicing the FFA Creed, which she will be reciting her career development event at state convention this April. She is what FFA Week is all about.
Rebecca Hoeft was never in FFA. She never wore the blue jacket but still has dedicated much of her time and skills to supporting those who do. She has served on the Minnesota FFA Foundation Board the past several years and is now its chair. She supports students by making sure the opportunities offered to members are possible. She is what FFA Week is all about.
I know what you’re thinking, “Wait a minute PJ, I thought you said FFA Week was all about me, but now you’re saying it’s all about these people. How does that work?”
That’s a great question! The truth is, FFA Week IS all about you, and FFA Week IS all about them too. FFA Week is about each and every one of us. FFA is so much more than any one group of people. It is when we all come together that we achieve all that we are. Together we make the bigger picture that is a beautiful emblem on the back of a blue corduroy jacket. We are all pieces of a greater puzzle.
So whoever you are, whether a current or past member, parent, advisor, alumni, supporter, or someone who is just hearing about FFA for the first time, FFA is all about you, because it is about all of us. Agriculture affects each and every one of us, so this big celebration of ours is about all of us. Together We are all a part of this amazing, crazy, life-changing organization. It takes everyone involved to make it as incredible as it is which is why we are all worth celebrating.

Stationed by the Rising Sun,

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Happy Life Is A Good Life

I absolutely loved school! When I was in elementary school, I just enjoyed every aspect of school and woke up really early every morning just to make sure that I got on the bus. I also enjoyed my time in high school because of all of the wonderful opportunities it provided to me. No matter what was available to me in school, I was part of it. School came pretty easy to me. I enjoyed going to classes and looked forward to learning something new each day. I liked getting to know my classmates and making friends. I also absolutely loved getting involved in extracurricular activities, especially when I was with my friends. As I came to college, things got a little tougher.

College definitely brought a new struggle for me, especially when it came to classes. The past few days have reminded me of my high school days. Since I’m enrolled in a Money and Banking course, I realized once again how much harder colleges is. I took probably one of the hardest tests in my life and received a subpar grade. I had always done well on my tests in school but looking at this grade on my computer was difficult for me. This grade made me realize something interesting; maybe Money and Banking is a weakness of mine?

This brings up an intriguing philosophy that we continually learn about. Many of us have heard someone say how we need to change our weaknesses into a strength. My team and I had a unique experience to go to Land O’ Lakes and visit with Paul Hansen about leadership development. One thing he pointed out was this philosophy about changing our weaknesses into strengths. He shared the philosophy from Strengths Finder, “It is not about focusing on our weaknesses; it is focusing on our strengths and excelling in our strengths.” What he said stuck with me and makes me think about how I have lived my life.

For many years, we have always been told to focus on our weaknesses, when in reality, we should be focusing on our strengths. For example, in school, our parents always wanted us to work on the classes where we had the lowest grade, rather than excel in those where we have the highest grade. For instance, I could be down about Money and Banking for which I received a bad grade on my test, or I could be excited for my Digital Media class and all of possibilities it offered for my future career . Of course, I know I still need to pass my classes to graduate, what if I also take some classes to strengthen what I am good at? We need to stop thinking about what we are bad at, and focus on what we are good at. Life is going to be so boring if we are always trying to focus on things that we may not like as much. A life of happiness is doing something you love. When you love something, you excel at it. When you enjoy something, it is commonly a strength. Therefore, when you focus on your strengths, you love what you are doing and are fulfilling a life of happiness. This is why I want you to go out and find those things you enjoy most. Focus on what you love. Be happy doing something that you like. Find the things and people in life that bring you joy and happiness, because a happy life is a good life!

Stationed by the Door,

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Kindness Is the Root of All Good Things...

Carrots and Kindness, they go together.  Well, at least in my mind they do, because carrots are root vegetables and grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil.  Once carrots have been allowed to grow, they can be harvested, so that all the good things they contain may be shared.  Kindness can also be grown, harvested, and shared with others.  Why am I talking about Carrots and Kindness you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

As many of you know, in January during the ILSSO trip, we traveled to South Africa.  On January 6th we had the opportunity to visit the Langplaas Vegetable farm.  The Langplaas Farms belong to the Van Rensburg family and it is now in the 4th generation of ownership. Their farm is irrigated, and they also have a state of the art packing house and cooling facilities which include a hydro cooling system.  The family raises approximately 500 Hectares (1200 acres) of vegetables including butternut squash, garden beets, sweet potatoes, onion and, yep you guessed it…carrots.

When we arrived to the Langplass Vegetable Farm, it was our second farm visit that day.  It was a very warm, very sunny, 96°F when we stepped off the bus.  A welcomed temperature to us Midwesterners on the trip, but a very warm day for those working in the fields each day.  We were greeted first by the farm manager who explained to us the history and overall operation of the farm.  After our introductions, we were invited to go directly into the fields and work side by side with the farm employees harvesting carrots! 

Immediately we were greeted with extreme kindness and felt very welcomed by everyone participating in the carrot harvest.  Can you are hard at work in the warm sun, going about your job, picking carrots, hauling them to the truck and suddenly, 75 American college students are spreading out among your field?  The farm workers didn’t blink an eye.  They welcomed us immediately and despite the fact they spoke very little English, they tried to communicate with us as much as they were able.  Smiles, however, know no language barrier, and kindness and friendship were instantly universal and apparent.  These workers were totally gracious and freely sharing of kindness with us. I was humbled and grateful to be here and tried to absorb every nutrient of this hands on learning opportunity.

We “dug in” and began harvesting with the farm employees.  The carrots were picked from the ground and then loaded into large crates.  Once the crates were full, it took two people to hoist the full and heavy crates onto the top of the head of another worker. Once the full crate was placed on top of the worker’s head, it was walked across the field and loaded into the nearest truck for transport to the on-farm packing facility.  Talk about farm fresh produce.  I was shown how to properly pick the carrots from the ground, then I was encouraged to try and carry the full crate of carrots on my head!  With a gentle kindness, the farm employees placed a type of head wrap on me, that helps protect the head when transporting the heavy crate to the waiting truck.  A little bit of fear washed over me… I was thinking: what if I can’t do this or what if I am not strong enough to carry this heavy load on top of my head?  I didn’t want to let down the very people who had opened their field, minds and hearts to us.  With encouragement and help from my new found friends, I was successful in landing the crate on my head!  Now, just to get to the truck!  Again, their kindness encouraged me, and I was successful in transporting the carrots to the truck!  They applauded me and celebrated my efforts! 

Here they were applauding me for my efforts in succeeding in a task they accomplish daily, and I was so touched by their support. At the end of the day, the carrots were successfully harvested, taken to the amazing packing facility, packaged and sent out to the consumers.   But at the end of the day, it was more than a successful harvest of an orange root vegetable.  It was the welcoming actions and kindness of these farm employees that was at the root of this experience.   What could have been viewed as a simple act of agricultural farm labor in a beautiful farm field, turned out to be so much more than that.  Because these amazing people opened their workplace to us, welcomed us to their daily lives, and showed us kindness, we all truly became better people that day. 8,000 miles from home and we were taught the lesson of a lifetime, to carry with us and share. 

I’ve been thinking about this experience a lot since my return home, and I can say I see the power in kindness and in even a simple smile.  A simple gesture can literally change someone’s day.  We don’t have to know their entire life story, their struggles, or even their accomplishments.  We can be kind to each other, no matter what.  So my FFA friends, I encourage you…be kind to others.  Be a day changer, a day maker for someone.  It doesn’t cost anything but can be of great value to others with whom you cross paths.

I truly lived and felt the FFA Motto during this farm visit:  We were Learning to Do and Doing to Learn during the harvest, we got to assist the farm employees in Earning to Live and now we can be Living to Serve by sharing the life lessons in kindness from that day.
Remember…Kindness is the root of all good things

Stationed by the Flag,

Madison Taylor 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

FFA: The Best Travel Agent Ever

FFA: The Best Travel Agent Ever

     Traveling has been on my mind recently as we just traveled to South Africa through the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers. As I have been thinking about this, I realized that FFA is truly the best travel agent in existence. The following is a list of some of the big places that FFA has taken me.

1. Twin Cities
     This destination would end up being a very popular destination for me through my years in FFA. My first trip FFA trip was to the State Convention during my 8th grade year with one of my good friends and our Advisor. This location will soon have another significance I travel to the University of Minnesota campus to help put on convention and give my retiring address for the 87th Minnesota FFA Convention.

2. Hackensack, MN
     Hackensack will forever hold an important place in my heart. The summer of my 9th grade year, a six hour bus ride with what would soon be a bus load of my closest friends, brought me to this middle of nowhere camp, Deep Portage Conservation Reserve. This would be the first of my 7 trips to Hackensack, all of which were just as great as that first one.

3. Countless Rural MN Towns
     CDE competitions, camps, regional chapter visits, meetings, and state chapter visits are just a few of the FFA activities that have brought me to the many small Minnesota towns across the state. Getting to learn more about people across Minnesota has been, and will continue to be, a valuable opportunity.

4. Indianapolis, IN
     One of the first times FFA brought me out of state was to the state of Indiana in the great town of Indianapolis. During the fall of my 9th grade year, I was given the opportunity to see the scale of FFA at a national level.  Here I was amazed at how I felt connected to the other 60,000 FFA members present that I had never met before.

5. Louisville, KY
     FFA brought me back to National Convention a total of five times, but the location moved to Louisville for the most recent three. I was able to travel to Louisville for both the National Dairy Cattle Evaluation event and to serve as a delegate for the state of Minnesota.

6. The British Isles
     My first international travel experience was also brought to me through FFA. After competing in Louisville and placing second as a team in Dairy Cattle Evaluation, we had the opportunity to travel to Scotland, England, and Ireland for a two week trip. I was able to gain an international perspective on the agricultural industry.

7. Iowa
     FFA brought me to Iowa in two aspects. One was for our National Leadership Conference for State Officers last summer where we were able to receive leadership training and get to know state officers from five other states. The second is that I followed the passion for agriculture I gained in FFA to study agricultural engineering at Iowa State University.

8. Washington DC
     Over this past New Year's, FFA brought me to our nation’s capital where we were able to see the monuments before starting the training for our travels through the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers.

9. South Africa
     South Africa was the most recent trip that FFA has brought me on, and it was truly amazing. Having the opportunity to learn about their agriculture and culture was eye opening as well as seeing all of the sights. One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was the friendships I formed with the 74 other State Officers that traveled will us and learning through them more about American agriculture.

10. Everywhere else…
     Even though FFA will soon stop taking me directly to all these great places, it will continue to be a part of me wherever I go. Though these experiences, FFA has provided me with the skills and knowledge to travel on my own and be successful doing so. It has also sparked a passion in me to travel and learn more about my destination, my home, and myself. I cannot wait to see where I go next. These are the reasons why FFA is truly the best travel agent.

Where will FFA take you?

Stationed by the Emblem of Washington,