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‘Skills in the real world’

FFA students share stories of learning from hands-on experience

Pictured is Ashley Jackson's documentation for her FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project, including pictures of the calves she works with.
OST photo by AMY HANSEN Pictured is Ashley Jackson's documentation for her FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project, including pictures of the calves she works with.

What students learn in Future Farmers of America (FFA) doesn't just aid them in high school, it's education they can take with them for their future careers.

A major component of FFA education is learning from hands-on experience, including a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project.

"We have some kids who have some pretty amazing SAE projects," said Brandi Boyd, agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor at Clarke Community High School.

Boyd, who currently has 38 students working on SAE projects, said the projects also help students learn about record keeping and financial management.

"They'll all have their own focus," Boyd said.


In SAE projects, there are many degrees, or levels of advancement, students can achieve, including the Greenhand, Chapter, State (Iowa) and American degrees.

"Hopefully, what it's teaching these kids is that they'll be able to use these skills in the real world," Boyd said.

Clarke senior Ashley Jackson achieved her Iowa degree last year. This year, she will be competing against other students who have a project similar to hers.

Jackson's SAE project includes documenting what she's learned about working on her family farm.

"Everybody being involved — doing their part — is a really important part of her SAE," Boyd said. "What she does is, her responsibility is a lot of record keeping, but, then, also, she focuses on taking care of baby calves and the horses."

Here are other Clarke students who are currently working on their SAE projects:

Tiffany McKnight

McKnight said she wants to be an equine trainer when she's older. Right now, she's training three horses and giving lessons to their owners.

"These skills will help me because I am getting experience with all the different types of horses that are out there," she said. "Basically, that's kind of how I'm going to progress to be an equine trainer."

As for challenges, McKnight said she's encountered problems with scheduling and horse training.

"For instance, one of the horses was rearing up and trying to attack me," she said. "So, I had to go to other trainers and ask for advice."

McKnight said one of the most important things she's learned is how to make a bond with the horses, as well as the owners.

Kooper Brimm

Brimm's SAE project includes international relations by working at an orphanage and building houses in Haiti.

"This kind of ties into agriculture because, also, while we were down there we were working on plowing fields and planting it with corn," Brimm said.

According to Brimm, Haitians will plant corn on any hill, including hills with 90-degree angles. He said one of the goals of traveling to Haiti is to help Haitians produce food for themselves.

Writing summaries and logging hours are also things Brimm has to do for his project.

"I learned not to take anything for granted," Brimm said, "and what we have, even though we might not think it's a lot, is actually a lot."

Jake Manternach

Manternach's project falls under the SAE job-placement category, and he is employed at Fareway. Manternach logs his hours for his project every time he works.

"At Fareway, everything in the store somehow relates to agriculture, whether it be the cardboard boxes that come in to produce," he said.

Manternach said what he wants to do in the future is something with food safety, similar to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat inspection.

While Manternach might not be able to work in the store's meat department, he said his current job at the store is a good way to "get his foot in the door." He said he is learning important skills at Fareway.

"And you have to know to keep everything safe and clean, and that's a big part of everything," Manternach said.

Kaitlyn Boyer

Beef production is the focus of Boyer's SAE project. She has a small herd of Limousin cattle, and her family owns the business the Harvest Barn. The family also takes their beef and pork products to sell at Downtown Des Moines Farmers' Market.

"I get to help sell the beef directly to the consumer there, so that kind of helps me with the public-speaking skills," Boyer said.

According to Boyd, an important aspect of Boyer's SAE project is actually raising the products from the farm and providing it directly to the consumer.

Boyer said she also focuses on improving the genetics of her herd, including embryo transfers, artificial insemination and fertilization.

"When I get older, I'm definitely going to do something with beef and beef production — definitely with agriculture," Boyer said. "I like doing stuff with genetics, so I maybe want to look at becoming a geneticist, or just something with cattle."

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