MADISON, Minn. – In a low-key visit, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited Lac qui Parle Valley High School to kick off National FFA week.
At about 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, she plus two aides pulled up to the rural school, located between Madison, Appleton and Milan – about 150 miles straight west of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.
Her plans included visiting another school, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School later that day.
Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Ag Committee, meets frequently with FFA chapters and members to discuss their plans and issues.
In a short speech, she called attention to the shortfall of ag teachers. Agriculture offers many jobs for those who want to live in rural areas, and many of those jobs require the ability to use technology and science. She also mentioned the importance of developing broadband communication infrastructure.
Minnesota has about 230 high school ag teachers that teach 10,500 students (average of 45 students per teacher).
The state has 32 new ag teachers this year, said Lavyne Rada, in charge of Minnesota’s mentoring program for first year ag teachers. About 25 of the teachers have completed a four-year degree or earned their masters in ag education. The rest have working in agriculture, and have received variances to teach agriculture while they complete their teaching degree.
“We also have science teachers that are helping us out, but we definitely have an ag teacher shortage,” said Rada.
At Lac qui Parle Valley High School, Wes Anderson has overseen the ag program since the school opened in 1990.
Klobuchar took a tour that showed a classroom where students in a general course are building fishing rods and reels.
In a totally different direction, Anderson is also teaching biotechnology. He’s received over $100,000 in grants, with some of those grants coming from the Minnesota Ag Education Leadership Council, to enhance programs at school.
He used about $20,000 in grants to purchase curricula and equipment to experiment with gel electrophoresis in the biotechnology class.
The ag program also has a drone so students can learn more about that technology and its application in agriculture. Students also displayed one of their LqPV trailers, the “Hay Hauler 14” for big round bales.
Another class focused on plasma cutting/machining, and a student demonstrated the use of computers and robots to cut through metal.
Klobuchar toured the school’s winter greenhouse that is a collaboration of student groups led by the YES team and several teachers and programs.
The ag program assisted in building the passive solar system.
A painted black wall across from large glass windows has tubes with fans. When a thermostat reaches a certain temperature in the daytime, the thermostat turns on the fans that suck in hot air. The hot air is pumped 4 feet underground to a series of underground pipes and rocks.
In the night, when heat is needed, fans suck heat from the rocks and blow it into the greenhouse. A small amount of supplemental heat is needed, but for very little heating cost, students raise greens that are used in the school’s salad bar and are also distributed among greenhouse shareholders.
The 5-12 grade school tour also included a trip into the Robotics lab. Klobuchar saw the group’s robot that can launch Dodgeballs.
The 45-minute tour included recognition of the local John Deere dealership, Amundson Peterson, Inc. for sponsoring scholarships through the National FFA Organization.
The dealership, with stores in Elbow Lake, Morris, Benson and Madison, will provide four scholarships each valued at $2,000 to students in 2016.
After many photos and talking with the group of about 75 students, teachers and members of the public, Klobuchar left for her next stop.
“It’s really impressive that everyone came out,” she said before leaving. “Let’s hear it for Wes.”
As everyone clapped, Anderson said, “It’s all about the kids, and the support from their parents.”
Each year, FFA chapters around the country celebrate National FFA Week. The tradition began in 1947, when the National FFA designated the week of George Washington’s birthday as National FFA week to recognize his legacy as an agriculturist and farmer.
FFA chapters sometimes put on breakfasts to celebrate the week, or schedule fundraisers. They may put on Ag Olympic competitions, or sponsor dress up days throughout the week. Some chapters also spend time with elementary or middle school students and teach about agriculture.
“They are really reaching out to make an impact in their communities and spread the message about what FFA and ag education are all about,” said Lavyne Rada, Minnesota FFA leadership development coordinator.