Sunday, May 26, 2019

Biren Drives towards Success With Dakota Thunder Shires

By Mariah Miller – Blooming Prairie FFA
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.” If Maya Angelou’s words of wisdom are correct, then Jonni Biren, a senior at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School, will surely succeed. Jonni’s family’s passion is to show and drive Belgian draft horses. That passion is evident with Jonni as she loves the horses, and the work involved with caring for the horses.
The Belgian horse driving team is named Dakota Thunder Shires. Jonni has many tasks which are slightly different from at home to work. At home, her main jobs are to muck out stalls, mix grain rations, feed hay for up to 10 head of horses, grooming and working horses. The purpose of working horses is to drive and prepare them for competitions. At shows, there are several different classes including cart class (single horse), team (2 horses), unicorn (3 horses), 4-horse hitch, 6-horse hitch, and the 8-horse hitch. There are also halter classes and youth classes which include cart, team, showmanship and decorators.
Generally, the shows last 3-4 days. When traveling to a show, they take a semi (which hauls the horses, harnesses and wagon). They also take a horse trailer which has the rest of the supplies such as the rest of the tack, grain, hay and usually the cart.
At shows, her jobs include setting up the stalls (where tack should go and putting up decorations), morning and night chores (includes exercising horses) and show preparation which includes washing the horses, braiding the manes, tails, foretops, brushing, harnessing and then hitching the horses.
Over the years, Jonni has gained more responsibilities working for Dakota Thunder. She can now drive teams of horses by herself. Eventually, Jonni purchased three Belgian horses of her own, one of them a mare so she can raise colts.
Jonni’s favorite part of the job is being able to drive the horses.
“Whether it is at home or in a show ring, I can’t explain how much I enjoy being able to drive them. Having that much horsepower in my hands is an incredible feeling,” said Joni. “I love being able to work with each horse because each horse is different, and I get to learn what works best with each one. Being able to work with horses like I do does not even seem like a job to me because I enjoy it so much.”
I asked Jonni if she had any memorable experiences by helping others through her work with horses. She replied that last year at a show, she gave a young man, who had a disability, a ride on the six-horse hitch because it was his dream. Doing this, along with answering people’s questions in the barn and letting them get to know the horses is the main way of outreach. Working with these horses, she has been able to work on her communication skills. Being involved with Dakota Thunder has enabled Jonni to network with other equine owners.
Jonni will be attending South Dakota State University in Brookings to study animal science and pre-veterinary medicine. Her career goals are to become a large animal veterinarian. Jonni’s dream is to own a Belgian draft horse hitch with her cousin (Kennedy) along with other family members. She also hopes to continue breeding Belgian mares. With certain hope, Jonni will succeed because she is pursuing a career that she loves.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Selling Goat’s Milk by-products to pay for College

By Kyra Nichols – Zumbrota FFA

Beth Ann Hanson, from the Medford FFA chapter, makes and sells natural products from goat’s milk. She grew up on a small, diversified farm. When she was in 5th grade she learned how to make soap from goat’s milk with her mom. This first step would lead her to an immense proficiency project in the near future.

Beth Ann had grown up watching her brother and mother make soap from goat’s milk. It had sparked an interest in her at a young age, so she decided to make it her Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) when she joined FFA. Beth Ann’s SAE relates to Agriculture Sales Entrepreneurship as she produces her own goat by-products and sells them.

After learning to make natural soaps, Beth Ann soon began to make and sell them on her own in 2014. She started out with three scents: rosemary, peppermint and lavender. An oatmeal soap was also offered as a natural exfoliation. She realized that she wanted this to keep expanding, so in 2015 she purchased dried herb leaves and rose petals to make her product more unique. This expanded her customer base, which led her down a whole new path. With more customers, meant more demand, including a demand for lotion.

Beth Ann researched continuously to find a recipe for goat’s milk lotion but found it difficult to find one that did not spoil easily and was all-natural. Thankfully, this did not stop her. She then teamed up with a chemist to create a recipe that would work. The first prototypes were created in July of 2015, but she waited to sell them for a year to ensure proper shelf life.

Beth Ann uses brochures to educate consumers about her product and increase sales for Whispering Creek Farms. These brochures include every ingredient, and what they can do for your skin. The brochures also include positive customer testimonials. She has found that about 75 percent of her customer base is returning customers. She currently sells her products at local farmers markets, two craft shows and a hair salon. Beth Ann has also found it to be very helpful to have samples out at shows. These samples help prove that her product is worth the money, that it does not leave a greasy film on your skin and to show what it smells like. She uses a pump bottle for this so that customers can help themselves. She has explored different social media platforms, Facebook and Snapchat, to promote her product for free.

She now has 25 soap options and 10 lotion scents to sell. Beth Ann plans on expanding her business as long as it is profitable to help pay for her college tuition. She is inspired to keep doing this due to the positive feedback given by customers. She plans to expand by listening to her customer's needs and their positive experiences shared. She emphasizes the importance of what is being absorbed into your body. Her long-term plan is to earn a degree from Dakota County Technical College in early childhood and youth development and transfer those credits to a four-year school to finish her degree.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Curling and FFA

By Bodie Bice – Waseca FFA

FFA Chapters across the state do a variety of different recreational activities. From Thief River Falls to Chatfield, members love to bond with their chapters through different recreational activities. One chapter in Region II has quite the unique winter activity. Every December, the Deer River FFA chapter partners with their local curling club to promote a fun recreational activity. This allows members to bond as well as experience a new sport that they can play for the rest of their lives.
For anyone wondering what curling is, here’s a quick refresher. Curling is a game played on ice with four people on a team. The objective of the game is to get an extremely polished granite stone as close to the center of the house center as possible. Teams take turns having one person on the team in a set order throw rocks with two other members sweeping the rocks. The skip, akin to a quarterback in football of sorts, is responsible for executing strategy and throwing the last two rocks in an end (an end is sort of like an inning in baseball, each team throws eight rocks per inning). At the conclusion of an end, scores are tallied and after 10 ends, the team with the most points wins!

For the Deer River FFA chapter, there’s fun to be had all around. When it comes to Deer River’s advisor, Kirby Schmidt is all about the fun of the game. When asked about what his favorite part of curling was, he said, “Sweeping furiously in front of a big granite stone gliding towards the house and yelling like the professionals do!”

Curling for the Deer River FFA chapter allows for their organization to have a fun, competitive activity as well as the ability to build and strengthen connections between chapter members.

For FFA members Marshall Michienzi and Cole Fox, the relationships built through curling outside FFA is their favorite part.

“Talking to the friendly people who are teaching you how to curl properly is one of my favorite parts of curling,” said Marshall. Cole Fox agrees.

“My favorite part about curling was being able to learn about a sport I didn’t have hardly any knowledge of,  and being able to connect with the people who knew the sport and could properly teach us how to play,” said Cole. He also stated that the partnership extends more than just one night of curling and that the curling club has invited all Deer River FFA members to come back and curl as much as they’d like.

The relationships and connections built through this activity translate very well into leadership and networking skills in the real world. When it comes to the value of physical recreational activities within FFA or other student led organizations, Advisor Schmidt says that these activities advocate for lifelong fitness for youth who may not click with traditional team sports. Cole and Marshall agree.

“I would say the benefit of implementing curling or other physical recreational activities in a chapter organization is gaining knowledge of something that you didn’t have before and promoting healthy lifestyles,” Cole.

“(Curling) provides time for members to have fun with each other as a chapter and strengthen relationships with each other,” said Marshall.

Whether it is the bonding through a robust teambuilding activity or the opportunity to teach members new avenues to be fit for life, a recreational activity for any organization is a great idea, and it works especially well for FFA chapters. Allowing members to live out the FFA motto of Learning to Do allows them to develop their ability to grow as leaders as well as people while having a good time doing so.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Thank You 25 Years in the Making

By Bailee Schiefelbein – Kimball FFA

As an FFA member, I have vivid memories of attending state convention for the past three years. A lot changes each year like the hotel room, other members and state officers. The highlight for many people at convention is when the new state officer team is announced. You can feel the excitement as well as the anxious energy when one by one each team member is announced. The event is thrilling, and for the first time in nearly 25 years, one new team member will be announced. This team member is often over-looked, but is immensely important to the work of our organization. Mr. Joel Larsen has served as our Minnesota State FFA Advisor for nearly 25 years, but his story starts way before then.

Mr. Larsen has an immense love for agricultural education and helping young students discover their passion for agriculture. He knows that young students have so much potential in agriculture they just need a little help finding it. Mr. Larsen started his teaching career at St. James High School. While he was only there for a short time, it jump started his career. His next role was as FFA advisor and agricultural education teacher in Belle Plaine for about 13 years. The most exciting part about working with Belle Plaine FFA was how the chapter made a positive impact on the community. In 1995, he was offered a job with the Department of Education focusing on agricultural education as the State FFA Advisor.

In this state-wide roll, Larsen has dedicated his life to helping students accomplish countless goals to help them pursue their passion and inborn fondness for agriculture. Sometimes that passion drives members to attain the highest rank available in FFA: the American Degree. He has enjoyed working with, interviewing and meeting these incredible American Degree candidates. He has also seen the amazing work of our Minnesota Star candidates and has felt honored to work with each of them. Mr. Larsen says that meeting these accomplished students has been a highlight of his career because you can see the excitement these kids have when they complete their goal.

In fact, each convention is special to him because of the eagerness of each student whether they are competing or supporting and learning. The anticipation that fills the air is undeniable and unrivaled. He loves watching members transfer emotion and intensity into a Career Development Event, an interview for Supervised Agriculture Experience or walking across the stage earning awards and recognition for what they have been working on all year long or even longer.

Though he is sad to leave his day job, he knows he will never leave FFA. Like the FFA Creed says, Mr. Larsen believes in the future of agriculture and confidently states, “the future is bright for agricultural education and FFA.” He knows that in FFA, youth are able to discover their passion. Not only do they find a desire for a future career, but they are guided the whole way along the journey to a career. FFA helps students understand how to get the job whether it is education or interviewing skills. FFA is there to help members reach their career goals. The amount of career opportunities available to students these days is incredible when participating in FFA and in agriculture in general.

Since Mr. Larsen came into the office of State FFA Advisor, FFA has been growing, which can make leaving harder. But this reassures him that Minnesota FFA is in a good place. The growth of members, students and supporters demonstrates that there is a bright future for Agriculture Education and FFA in the state of Minnesota.

We will all miss Mr. Larsen, but the work he has done for our state to support agricultural education and FFA will never be forgotten. On behalf of every Minnesota FFA member past and present, thank you Mr. Larsen!