FAIRMONT - Fairmont Area Schools' agriculture and FFA programs are milestones in and of themselves, given the extensive community backing that has made them possible.
But new milestones will keep coming, such as the one-year anniversary of the programs, celebrated Sunday evening at the high school. Students, parents, advisers and sponsors came together to toast the year's achievements, from state contest wins, to the election of new FFA officers, to the ongoing support of agri-business.
"[Having an ag program] means a lot; I can't believe we haven't had it since 1986," said outgoing FFA chapter president Levi Becker. "Especially when you look at all the hogs and corn raised around here."
Fairmont FFA vice president Jacob Portz, second from right, speaks during the chapter’s year-end banquet Sunday evening at Fairmont Area High School. Looking on, from left, are parliamentarian Lydia Johnson, president Levi Becker and treasurer Mariah Thate.
Becker will study ag business in college, and then plans to return to Martin County to farm. He is exactly the kind of student the programs are meant to serve.
Brandon Nordstrom, representing CHS, which operates a local soybean-oil processing plant, was recognized as a sponsor Sunday. He said the company got involved because it looks for ways to support agriculture, which he believes offers values beyond its products.
"One thing I really see around this area is an incredible work ethic. Some of that, I think, can be attributed to the agriculture community," he said.
Nordstrom, a former FFA member at Martin County West, believes students in ag classes benefit from gaining an awareness of the broad range of activity and careers in the ag industry.
The school's ag program has more than 65 individuals and businesses supporting it.
"We recognize that this would not be possible without the financial support of the businesses of the community," said Amber Seibert, who is the school's ag instructor and FFA adviser.
Fairmont Area began talking about adding an ag program in early summer 2011. The idea was to help prepare local teens for careers in agriculture, something that surrounds them, but was not necessarily integrated into their lives. As Becker noted, the school's ag program fizzled out in 1986.
By early 2012, it was clear that the concept had support in the local agri-business community. Ag program enthusiasts envisioned raising $100,000 per year for three years to support a program entirely with private dollars.
In February 2012, the program had gained a name - Ag Academy, which would include ag courses and FFA. And the vision of fundraising had become a pledge, with supporters lining up more than $200,000.
The school soon began working on a course list, with classes such as animal science, ag leadership and small animal care.
By Feb. 29, 2012, the school board was able to approve the ag program, opening up Ag Academy to student enrollment.
The district hired Seibert to oversee the academy as an instructor and FFA adviser. She moved to Fairmont last July after serving for two years in a similar role in Sauk Rapids, near St. Cloud.
Seibert knew what to do because of her experience, and the school had already registered students for classes, so getting the local program up and running was not too complicated from her standpoint. She ordered her classroom items and tried to get out into the community, to let people know she was here.
"[The response was] really, really positive," she said in an interview with the Sentinel late last week. "I've been surprised how excited people have been to have an ag program here in Fairmont."
Seibert has had 150 students under her wing during this school year. There was a strong senior contingent, so the numbers will be down a little next school year. That has Seibert committed to recruiting.
FFA officers were elected last November, with FFA beginning in December. Seibert described the students involved as a strong group, and she has had fun watching them grow and develop as they try more and more things.
FFA includes competitions, and Fairmont fielded 12 teams in its first year, out of a possible 24 contests. Three local teams even made it to state, which Seibert called an exciting, unexpected surprise. Those teams qualified in general livestock, parliamentary procedure and ag mechanics.
"My goal is to get [FFA students] involved in as many areas as possible," she said of future contests. "But it doesn't work unless a student has the drive and energy to put in time in practice."
Overall, Seibert is pleased with how things have gone at Ag Academy.
"It's been much more than I ever expected," she said. "I didn't expect this much community support, or such strong, ag-based kids who were so passionate about FFA or agricultural education."