Wendy Wiggins and Dane Balzer check a measurement during an experiment in one of their agriculture studies classes at South East Polk High School.
Following in the legacy of George Washington, one of the first agriculturists and prominent farmers in this country, National FFA Week was started 67 years ago to celebrate and advocate ag education.
It also celebrates the work that students do every day to grow by gaining important life skills and building friendships that last far into their careers. Agriculture related classes are at capacity in many schools across the state as students explore the many traditional careers that are associated with agriculture. Pair that with the demand for more technology and biotech careers and organizations like the FFA are increasingly more relevant for students seeking a career path in agriculture.
Matthew Eddy, the South East (SE) Polk FFA advisor and agricultural education teacher, says his classes are nearing capacity at the schools and interest in a wide range of agriculture business careers has never been higher in his classroom.
“I have 200 plus members in my chapter and I can count the number of farm kids on one hand and not use all of my fingers,” he said. “It (FFA) is definitely relevant to every student. Every student can use public speaking skills and develop personal skills that can help them later in life.”
Wendy Wiggins, a sophomore at SE Polk High School, is currently taking an animal science class and hopes to pursue a career as an embryologist or nutritionist, but right now she is happy with the experience she is getting from being in the school’s FFA chapter and the friendships that have been discovered along the way.
“I live on a farm and have cattle so I think it is fun to learn here at school and take it home and put it into practice,” Wiggins said. “You meet a lot of people at events and then get to see them again at other events. It’s great to build friendships.”
Eddy believes that the classes offered at his department in the school gives students interested in agriculture the tools they need to explore different careers associated with agriculture.
Matthew Eddy describes an equation to students trying to discover the amount of moisture in a feed ration during a class at South East Polk High School.
The curriculum is a purposeful way to teach STEM concepts but with an agricultural twist,” he said. “We’re doing the same things you would find in any math or science class but with an agriculture twist.”
Eddy went on to say that the relevance to the curriculum for the students is raising their interest and rigor.
“The more interest you have in things the more you’re willing to work to learn more about it. We’re using ag as kind of a teaser hook to get them interested in other things,” he said.
Eddy said that the SE Polk FFA chapter holds an annual flower sale to raise money for the chapter and the students are learning about aquaculture by raising Baramundi seabass. They also participate in several community service projects every year including raising potted flowers for Altoona’s main street.
He is excited for the futures of his students. He hopes that work he is doing in the classroom and their involvement in FFA is preparing them for ag and technology jobs that will be available in 10 to 20 years. He uses the new ag technology corridor that is being developed between Ames and Des Moines along Interstate 35 as an example of new opportunities for the students.
“I want kids to be able to live in SE Polk and work at Pioneer, John Deere, Nationwide Ag and all of the different agriculture entities that have offices here in Polk County,” Eddy said. “There are a plethora of agriculture employment opportunities and students need to understand the great opportunities that are here.”
By Joe Murphy, Member Communications Manager