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Iowa FFA: Igniting the Journey
By DOUG SCHMITZ
Iowa Correspondent

AMES, Iowa — For Sarah Rammelsberg, the 78th Iowa FFA Leadership Conference’s theme Igniting the Journey held a very special place in the Hudson, Iowa native’s heart.

“(The) conference gave me a renewed sense of meaning,” said the ISU freshman, who’s studying agricultural education. “Watching over 5,000 FFA members and guests learn, meet new people, and succeed made all of the hard work these past months worth it.”

Nearing its 80th year, the Iowa FFA Leadership Convention, held last month on the campus of Iowa State University (ISU), set new attendance records with over 5,000 attending and almost 500 students receiving the coveted Iowa FFA degree.

“Without question, this year’s conference set new levels of energy and excitement about agriculture,” said Dale Gruis, state FFA advisor for the Iowa FFA Assoc. “While (it’s) hard to quantify, the most common comment we have heard was about the excitement and energy of our general sessions held in Hilton Coliseum.”

Gruis said that excitement could have a lot to do with the convention relocating four years ago from Des Moines to the ISU campus to better develop a stronger education connection at a postsecondary institution – especially since ISU is the state’s only public university to offer agriculture degree programs.

“Our goal was to increase the exposure that high school students have with postsecondary agriculture programs (and) to find the facility that better met our needs,” Gruis said. “While in Des Moines, we were required to utilize several different hotels to find adequate break-out room space.

“In Ames, Hilton Coliseum and the Scheman Building provide adequate space within very close proximity to reduce costs of the state leadership conference,” he said. Before joining the FFA in high school, Rammelsberg was “shy, misguided and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.”

But Rammelsberg said the FFA gave her a place to call home, where she gained confidence, leadership, responsibility and learned many other skills.

“I can honestly say I would not be the person I am today if it was not for the FFA,” she said. “I have learned who I am and what I want to do with my life through the guidance of FFA. The skills I have learned make college easier. Presentations, communication and work come easy to me because of my experiences through the FFA.”

For Columbus Junction, Iowa native Andrea Ryan, the Iowa FFA was a key factor in her decision to study agricultural business.

“As a freshman in high school, I started my beef production entrepreneurship, Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE),” said Ryan, who’s finishing her sophomore year at ISU. “I am responsible for all aspects of my SAE, which include a lot of business and record keeping skills.

“When working with businesses and individuals to buy and sell livestock, order feed, take care of livestock and much more, I found that I enjoyed communicating and working with individuals in the agricultural businesses that I was working with.”

After serving as the Iowa FFA president for 2005-2006, Graettinger, Iowa native Shamus Brown said he has seen FFA members getting more motivated than ever.

“The conference is a team effort, lead by the nine student officers that are elected each year,” said the ISU animal science major, who’ll be a junior this fall. “But everyone has a little part to call their own. They specifically contributed and it all adds up. Seeing our team have a great conference and members excited to be there is what I’m truly proud of.”

As the newly-elected Iowa FFA president for 2006-2007, Villisca, Iowa Matt Dolch said being the southwest Iowa vice president this past year was the greatest experience of his life.

“(The) Iowa FFA has contributed immensely to developing me as an individual and as a member of a team,” said the ISU agricultural education and communications major, who, like Brown, will also be a junior this fall.

“I have learned service to 12,000 Iowa FFA members is far more important than personal/self-recognition,” he said.

Dolch added that the FFA has been an opportunity to meet some of the best leaders in the country.

“I have seen (the FFA) build leadership in young people and build confidence in public speaking and social interaction,” he said. “FFA provides outstanding travel opportunities with a wide variety of destinations. It has been a priceless experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Will Jones, a Sioux Center, Iowa native who served as the 2005-2006 Iowa FFA reporter, helping plan and organize the convention, advised future FFA members to get involved now.

“FFA is a short time for all of us and the biggest regrets you will ever have is not doing everything you could,” said the ISU freshman. “FFA has been everything to me.”

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/3/2006