Walter Will, a member of Durand FFA, tends plants in the groups' greenhouse.

Walter Will, a member of Durand FFA, tends plants in the chapter’s greenhouse.

When Durand High School students join the Durand FFA Chapter, they’re taking on more than an agricultural education – though plenty of that already flourishes at the school with a farm, greenhouse, livestock facility and an agriculture mechanics shop. Through the program, students also cultivate strong leadership skills to thrive in higher education and the workforce. “The Durand FFA program has strong classroom instruction and fantastic supervised agricultural experience projects for the students,” says Randy Showerman, Michigan FFA Association state advisor. “And the instructors do an outstanding job working with the Durand FFA Chapter, encouraging kids not only to participate in the contest areas, but also participate and excel when it comes to being community leaders.”

Members of the Durand FFA ppose with a tractor Friday December 11, 2015 at Durand High School in Durand, Michigan.

Inside and Outside the Classroom

With just over 200 members in the program, the Durand FFA Chapter offers students a comprehensive agricultural education that combines classroom and hands-on learning. In FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America), students put their knowledge to work outside the classroom, along with taking courses in agriscience, botany, natural resources, zoology and mechanical technology. For example, students raise broiler chickens and pigs in the school’s livestock facility, eventually showing chickens at the Michigan FFA Association’s poultry improvement contest and pigs at the Shiawassee County Fair. Plus, students develop skills in residential wiring and metal fabrication in a mechanical technology lab.

A greenhouse offers opportunities for them to grow and sell a variety of garden vegetables. The school’s property also includes a 14-acre farm where students grow corn and soybeans, and learn soil-sampling and fertilizer application techniques. After crops are harvested, agriculture business students advertise the crops and learn how to analyze the grain market. “The skills these students are learning are going to be with them throughout their lives,” Showerman says. “Students who participate in the agriculture program are expected to be in class on time and be prepared, and those are lifelong skills that will serve them well as they move on to post-secondary education and their first jobs.”

Brent Thompson, Walter Will and Nash Hart, members of the Durand FFA, assemble an electric junction box.

Brent Thompson, Walter Will and Nash Hart, members of the Durand FFA, assemble an electric junction box.

Leadership, Community Service Opportunities

Durand FFA Chapter students also participate in leadership development activities and statewide events, such as parliamentary procedure, public speaking and job interview contests. Those who win at the state level can go on to compete at the annual National FFA Convention & Expo, which took place in Louisville, Ky. in 2015. “This organization has given me the opportunity to speak in public and has gotten me to where I’m not afraid to talk in front of people,” says 17-year-old Janelle DeClerg, Durand FFA Chapter vice president and high school senior. “It has also sharpened my job interview skills, and I know that will help a lot in the upcoming years. Plus, it’s improved my social skills; it’s not hard for me to branch out and meet new people.” Students also gain an appreciation for the importance of volunteer work and community service. Every Thanksgiving, the chapter participates in a canned food drive and prepares packages for the Durand Area Loaves and Fishes Food Bank. The group also adopts families at Christmas time, providing gifts and food items, and each spring, between 50 and 60 chapter members take part in a “labor auction” during which students auction themselves off for eight hours of work. “We try to give back to the community as much as we can,” says Torey Birchmeier, Durand FFA Chapter advisor and Durand High School agriscience teacher.

Grant Hart and Jenna Otten check the automatic feeder on tomato plants in the chapter greenhouse.

Grant Hart and Jenna Otten check the automatic feeder on tomato plants in the chapter greenhouse.

See Also:  Top 10 Michigan Ag Products

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