Upsala’s young chapter prepares for FFA Week, Feb. 18-25

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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Upsala’s FFA Chapter is going through a rebuilding period.

“We lost about six seniors last year,” said Audrey Schleper, a ninth grader and the treasurer of the Upsala chapter. “We have only one senior this year and 75 percent of the chapter are ninth graders or younger.”

Audrey, in her third year with FFA, said that the meetings are quick.

The FFA promotes citizenship, volunteerism, patriotism and cooperation among its members. While the Upsala chapter’s members are mostly in the ninth grade or younger, Adviser Gretchen Schleper said it’s one of the best boards she has worked with. Pictured working on their recordkeeping are seated (from left): McKenzie Barth, reporter; Audrey Schleper, treasurer; and Renee Hebig, sentinel. Standing is Adviser Schleper.

“Not many of the students drive, so our meetings are during school lunch hour and last about 20 minutes,” she said.

Gretchen Schleper, Upsala’s FFA adviser and the district’s agriculture teacher said the short meetings are a good thing.

“The officers have to run a precise meeting. It’s good for them,” she said.

FFA Week began Saturday, Feb. 18, and runs through Feb. 25. Its theme this year is “I Believe,” and the organization will be celebrating more than 80 years of traditions. The 28 members in Upsala have been diligently preparing for the week’s events.

One of the events, open to the entire school, is a Tug of War competition Tuesday. The seventh grade will go against the eighth grade, the ninth grade will go against the 10 grade and the 11th grade will compete against the 12th grade.

During one lunch hour, Upsala’s FFA Chapter members will put on career development events, or CDEs. One will include an informational session about horses, dairy animals, poultry and general livestock. Participants may be asked to take a short quiz or be judges. It will show them what FFA is all about.

Gretchen will be hiding very small toy animals around the school for a scavenger hunt. Clues will be given on each of the animals to help locate them.

The Upsala elementary students will spend part of a day in a trivia contest and at the same time, learn about agriculture.

Prizes will be given out all week long.

A big part of FFA activities is competition. The Upsala chapter has been meeting other chapters in their region in several agricultural areas.

The Upsala chapter members most recently entered a horse judging event where horses were rated on confirmation (how the horse is built) and how each traveled.

“We judged horses of friends or from a stable and competed against 14 other FFA teams,” said Schleper. “We were short one person and came in 10th.”

Audrey and ninth grader Renee Hebig, the club’s sentinel, are now preparing for speaking events. Schleper will recite the FFA Creed then take questions from the judges for three – five minutes. Hebig will give a six – eight minute speech on federal farm jobs and child labor laws. She will also take questions from the judges for three-five minutes.

“I am against many of the farm job restrictions, especially those that restrict what a 14- or 15-year-old is able to do when working on a farm during the summer,” said Renee. “We should be able to enter a pen with a nursing animal or do some of the other jobs the federal government has imposed restrictions on.”

Many chapters across Minnesota have petting zoos during FFA week, but Upsala has chosen to create their zoo in the spring.

“We will be able to show the babies then,” said Gretchen. “Last year, we had more than 300 people come through the petting zoo.”

A student must be enrolled in an agriculture class each semester to be a member of FFA. But, many of the ninth grade and younger students have full schedules and are unable to make room for an ag class.

“The FFA students helped create an online record keeping class, one that the state FFA organization is looking into using,” said Adviser Schleper. “The students can keep record of their projects such as home repair and dairy improvement. They do the work and enter the information online. They can do this whenever they have time, get an ag credit for it. It also helps their FFA activities.”

Schleper said she never thought she would be teaching an online ag class, especially since it’s the first class in Minnesota to do so.

Eighth grader McKenzie Barth, a two-year member, is the Upsala FFA Chapter’s reporter. It’s her job to make sure the rest of the chapter is kept informed on all the activities and meetings.

“I started a Facebook account and run that. It seems to be the best way to keep every one in the loop,” said McKenzie. Any community member may “like” the Facebook page and learn what their local FFA chapter is up to.

Somehow, the chapter ordered too many fruit boxes for their annual fruit sales/fundraiser.

“We ended up donating more than $1,000 worth of fruit to the Morrison County Food Shelf and the Upsala Senior Center,” said Gretchen. After all was said and done, they did move all the boxes, about $21,000 worth, and profited about $5,000.

With the money, the chapter will purchase more CDE materials and new station embloms, which the officers feel are the original ones from 1953, when the chapter was formed.

Even though the members of the Upsala FFA are both young and new, Gretchen said they are some of the best officers she has seen.

Gretchen was named the Region II Ag Teacher of the Year Jan. 21 at the Winter Agriculture Technical Conference in St. Cloud. Nominated by her peers, the award was given by the Minnesota Association of Agriculture Educators.

“I was very honored. There are so many really good agriculture teachers in the region, many with more experience than I have,” she said.