Monday, July 30, 2018

Track The Facts

Track The Facts

Image result for new york subwayIn the summer of 2016, my family took a vacation to New York. A few of the stops along the way included spending a night in Indiana with our cousins, viewing the cascading Niagara Falls from Canada, and a day in Cooperstown, where the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is. All of these smaller stops led up to the main event: New York City. We did everything from going to see Lady Liberty in all her glory to seeing the Blue Man Group in an off-Broadway theater (that was so cool, we even got a painting that they made on stage!). One of the biggest obstacles we faced during our time in the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” (yes, I love that song and listened to it basically the whole way there) was transportation. We drove, but it was suggested to us by a friend, that we park it in a garage for the five days and use public transportation, so that's exactly what we did. The first morning, we got up and prepared to ride a New York subway train for the first time, and on that subway ride, we stuck out like a stain on a white shirt. We had no clue how the subway worked. Yes, we were that midwestern tourist family. Well, eventually we figured it out, but not until we were helped out and had the process explained to us.
Image result for miracle of birth centerLooking back, I can clearly see how this story relates to all of us as we advocate for agriculture, food and natural resources. What do you think the people who rode the subway on a daily basis thought about us? I am pretty sure they were thinking “ugh, tourists.” We weren’t dumb, arrogant, or ignorant, we just had not been introduced to a subway system as complicated as the one in New York. How does this apply to advocates? Each person has their own sets of experiences that defines their personality and shapes their beliefs and actions. However, we also need to know the facts. I also know that for some of us, the only knowledge of agriculture we have has come from advertisements, movies and our agriculture education classes. For example, many people have opinions about agricultural topics like genetically modified organisms (GMO) but worry about a lot of crops that aren’t modified. In fact, only 10 crops have GMO varieties: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets.
To have a conversation with people who may be unsure about what we eat, or the practices used to get food to our table, we must first acknowledge that we all have a different set of experiences and knowledge. Once we acknowledge that, we can affirm that everyone wants safe, affordable, and nutritious food, and build off of that connection to have a meaningful conversation. Finding what we have in common opens the door to share our stories and facts about agriculture production. So the next time we come across a situation in which we can advocate by sharing our story, whether it be at our local grocery stores or at the CHS Miracle of Birth Center at the Minnesota State Fair, let’s try to build a connection, so that we can positively shed a light on the wonderful world of agriculture and learn from each other.

Stationed by the Door,
H. James Mathiowetz

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Finding Our Place

Potato season is just around the corner for my family. In a few short weeks, our yard will be as busy as Grand Central Station with semis coming and going, field trucks unloading, and my family and me doing our part of the process. I’ve always loved the hustle and bustle that comes with the season, but throughout my growing up years, I seemed to have a hard time finding my place in it. As a four and five-year-old, I spent much of my time in the harvester with my dad watching as he carefully loaded each truck. As I got older though, I wanted to be on the sorting line so that I could separate the good potatoes from the damaged ones and work with our older employees (or maybe it was just because they’d pack extra cookies in their lunches for me). Despite my attempts to get a spot on the line, my dad wouldn’t let me. He said that it wasn’t safe for me yet because I could get my fingers caught. Very disappointed, I found my place riding in the trucks or in the tractor’s buddy seat with my dad for that year.
The next year came, and again I asked if I could have a spot on the sorting line. After all, I was six now. Dad was hesitant until he saw how easily I could climb into the truck boxes and push down any stuck potatoes. Seeing that sold him; he showed me where it was safe and not safe to put my hands and told me how to sort. Finally, I was on the crew! In my new position as junior junk picker, I worked very diligently to make sure no cornstalks, rocks, or bad potatoes would get past me, and anytime a truck didn’t unload very well, I was right there to help clean it out. I had my spot.
As I grew older, I became less content with my job as a junk picker and decided that I wanted to learn how to drive field trucks. So, at 12 years old, my dad put me with one of our farm’s best truck drivers to teach me how to drive a potato truck alongside the harvester. I enjoyed that spot too and stayed there for a long time until I was finally old enough to get my Commercial Driver’s License. Now, I haul semis of sorted potatoes to wash plants all over Minnesota.  
Over the last 12 years, I’ve had a lot of spots within potato harvest. Each position had its own unique challenges and many skills for me to master. What I learned at each step helped prepare me for what was coming next, but it wasn’t always easy to accept where I was. When I was 4 and 5, I wanted to be on the line. Once I was on the line, I wanted a spot in a field truck which led to me wanting a spot in a semi. Every role seemed so significant until I got there. As a result, I quickly worked to master whatever it was I was doing so I could do the next, bigger, and (what I thought to be a) more important job.
Potato harvest doesn’t work like that though. Although certain people supervise certain areas, being on the potato crew is more like being a piece of a puzzle than a rung on ladder. Each piece has a unique and equally important role in creating the full picture. At each phase, our team members can make the product great or make a mistake that could cost us money, time, or result in injury.
Sometimes in FFA, and in other aspects of life, it looks and feels like we’re just the bottom rung on a ladder. Maybe you’re a dishwasher at a restaurant, a gas station attendant, or working for local farms picking rocks. You might be a chapter member who is wondering where your place in FFA is. You might be a chapter or region officer wondering if what you do matters. You might be like me trying to figure out exactly what you’re going to do when you’re done with school. Maybe you’re just trying to find your spot in the world. 
Regardless of where you’re at on the ladder right now, we’re all part of the puzzle of life. Our employer needs us and every employee to do the job well and support each other. Our chapter needs us to share our voice, volunteer for chapter events, and bring others along with us.  Every piece, job, and person was created and is in existence for a reason. Sometimes it just takes time to discover what that reason is and to fully appreciate our role in creating the bigger picture.  As we prepare to start this next school year, let’s take time to think about the piece of the puzzle we complete, our importance in that role, and how we can help others find their place.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ribbons & Role Models

Fair season is officially upon us. For me, that means it’s show time. July is “crunch time” in the barn as we make our final preparations on the show stock. Washing, exercising, and grooming at 6:00 every morning, and spending countless hours in the barn, is how I get my animals ready for the fair.

Since I began showing livestock in third grade, the skills and techniques I use in the barn and in the show ring have immensely changed. As a first-year 4-Her, I can remember my first livestock show like it was yesterday. It was Friday morning of the Washington County Fair, and I was ready to bring home the champion ribbon with my leased prospect beef calf. With the nervous jitters, my older siblings and I arrived at the fair at 5:00 a.m. My older brother was showing two market steers, and my sister had a fall calf. Chris, the neighbor who I was leasing my calf from, arrived later that morning and gave me a slight boost of confidence with his kind words.

We began by washing the animals, cleaning the stalls, and feeding them their breakfast of champions. Then, it was time for fitting. I had no idea how to fit an animal, and I wondered if I would ever be able to do that myself. I noticed throughout the rest of the morning how all the older, more experienced exhibitors were getting their animals prepared to go in the ring. Little did I know how much of an influence those older exhibitors, my siblings, and Chris would have on my future years as a livestock showman. It was by watching them fit that I was able to take away new techniques each year. The first year I only knew the basics of washing and blow drying my calf. I have since learned each step in between, such as how to clip, pull up legs with adhesive, and give the hair its final “pop.

As I have grown older in the livestock community, I have come to know the power of influence and the importance of being a role model to others. We all start at a point in which we may feel overwhelmed or even helpless, but it’s who we choose to look up to that makes the difference. I chose to look up to my older siblings and family friend, Chris. Each of them provide me with a new piece of advice at every opportunity; advice that can be used both in and out of the show ring.

Each day, we have the opportunity to influence at least one person. People do not need to have a title or position; instead leadership is simply one person influencing another. The people we surround ourselves with are constantly observing our actions and attitudes - whether positive or negative. With this in mind, we must value and demonstrate integrity and good character. We never know the impact we may be creating in a single moment, and for that reason, we must be aware of the influence we create.

As Chris’s boys, Wyatt and Colton, are now getting started with their showing careers, I have been able to serve as a role model to them. Most days, I do not even realize the influence I am creating. Not only do I serve as a role model to Wyatt and Colton, but also a teammate. We show together, learn together, and laugh together. This year, I will be circling my animals in the ring for the final time in 4-H. Although I will not be standing with Wyatt and Colton in the ring next year, I will most definitely be ringside proudly cheering on my teammates. I am excited to see how they eventually pass on that influence to others.

So no, I did not win the champion ribbon at my first fair, but I did gain some pretty incredible role models. What does your “crunch time” look like? Who’s influence will you choose to follow? How will you be an influence for others?

Stationed by the Ear of Corn,
Laura Church

Sunday, July 8, 2018

In One Word...

The month of June brings forth some meaningful opportunities for us as State Officers to get to interact with members from across the state. One of these opportunities is the State Leadership Conference for Chapter Leaders (SLCCL), where students have the chance to meet each other and ultimately discover new ways to grow their chapter and strengthen their chapter’s program of activities. The members we interacted with were engaged in the material, passionate about sharing the good word of FFA, and excited to bring home what they learned. Before reading any further, please watch the video to hear what they had to say about what FFA means to them.

As you may have noticed in the video, I posed the same question to several 
different members, but each gave a different or unique answer. Although we each do have a different answer - and with that, a different perspective and personality
- we each have an answer. This illustrates that our organization -  and the world
beyond it - truly does have a place for each of us.

At SLCCL we discuss a chapter’s program of activities and guide members to 
understanding and wanting to better their own. One of the fifteen quality 
standards included in the program of activities is Chapter Recruitment. As FFA 
members and supporters, of course we want others to experience the joy and 
growth our organization has to offer, but at camp we realized this is usually easier 
said than done. Often times, it’s hard to get students interested in and excited 
about becoming members, and sometimes it’s just as hard to get current members
to feel the joy in being active. By the end of our time together at SLCCL, the 
members helped me to realize an important truth about engaging others.

Instead of trying to get others to be at the place we are – where we find purpose
and growth  – let’s invite them to find their own place of purpose and growth in 
this organization. An organization that, offers members a chance to discover 
careers in agriculture at various competitions, presents opportunities to travel, 
share musical and other talents, conduct research, and meet friends across the 
state and country but also presents opportunities to grow in self confidence, 
find motivation and support, and to understand the impact of and need for service.

In the upcoming weeks as we begin to prepare for the school year ahead,
let’s remember we all play a role in making others feel welcome in the blue
jacket. How can our chapters reach others and help them find their unique place inour organization? How can we bring value to the relationships we have with our 
alumni, stakeholders and community while helping them find their place 
supporting those in the blue jacket?

Let’s make it a goal this year to work together to help others - existing members,
potential members, alumni, and community members - see their place in FFA! 
As we do this let us remember that sometimes to share our story, we must first 
listen. Sometimes to come together, we must first embrace our individuality, and
to ultimately grow our chapters, we must first ask others how they wish to grow

Stationed Beneath the Rising Sun,

Grace Taylor
Minnesota FFA President

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Stationed by the Plow

“The plow is a symbol of labor and tillage of the soil. Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much.”

As this year’s Minnesota FFA vice president, I am honored to say these words during every opening ceremonies. However, these words also hold a deeper meaning.

One of the most influential pieces of my agricultural experience has been my internship at a University of Minnesota research station. I had the opportunity to work alongside two college students for an entomologist studying integrated pest management. This means he was studying how to kill pests of crops.

During the summer, I had the ability to listen to my boss talk about crop varieties, insect characteristics, pesticide effects, agricultural policies, and a lot about aphids. The part of his research that took the most planning and work focused on these small, green, soybean destroying machines.

He had trials of dozens of different pesticide application experiments set up to determine what was the best for farmers to use in their fields. The experiments he created were complex, sometimes using as many as ten different pesticides in one trial. He would spend hours figuring out how to set up experiments so that they would be successful and yield results that would benefit farmers.

After a research trial began, however, it fell to the interns to maintain it. Every once in a while, my boss would come out to check and see if we were doing our jobs properly, but as the summer went on,
he appeared in the field with us less frequently. Instead, he began to rely more and more on us interns to put in the labor, and he would spend his time talking to farmers and other researchers to discover what he should focus his time and energy on next.

Our most grueling task as interns was collecting data on the aphid trials. This meant checking random soybean plants for aphids and counting any that we saw on them. We could spend four hours a day for multiple days in a week simply counting individual aphids on soybean plants. After we counted
them, we would also be responsible for recording our findings in a spreadsheet and bringing it to our boss on a flash drive.

After plugging in the flash drive into his computer and having all of us gather around, he would open a program used to analyze the data. We would talk for half an hour on what was and was not working in the trial, what he might do to improve it next year, and how weather patterns might have affected the results.

One important lesson I learned from this summer was that you can be brilliant and have amazing ideas, but you have to put in the labor or you won’t accomplish your goals. My boss was smart. He designs experiments with real-life applications that can help farmers all over the country. Without help, however, his goals weren’t possible.  He had no way of putting in enough labor to accomplish his goals by himself.

He has knowledge and wisdom, but he relies on his interns to put in labor. Together, this system accomplishes its goals of helping agriculture succeed.

Just like I learned this lesson through being an intern that summer, I also learned this lesson through being an officer in the FFA.  Leading up to camps this summer, my team and I went through training to help us gain the tools and knowledge we needed to write and facilitate the State Greenhand Leadership Conference (SGLC) and State Leadership Conference for Chapter Leaders (SLCCL).

As we left this training, we were excited to write the curriculum, but we soon found out how much work it was to write a conference. We had to put in long hours and a lot of effort to make sure we were ready for members at the beginning of June.

We got knowledge and wisdom from our teachers, but without the labor, we put in between the end of training and the beginning of SGLC, we couldn’t have had success at camp.

This is the deeper meaning behind my part in opening ceremonies.

Now I’ll leave it to you;

What do you put your time and energy into?
What ideas do you have but haven’t given enough labor?

Stationed by the plow,
Kegan Zimmermann
State Vice President