Colorado’s largest FFA chapter is diverse group of Fruita students

Jody Mullin helps Reo Weisgerber, center, wrap a box for the chapters Twice Loved Toy Drive. The FFA members collect, fix and clean gently used toys for needy children in the Grand Valley.

Fruita’s FFA chapter is the largest in Colorado, with about 100 more members than the next-largest chapter in Greeley.

The agricultural leadership club ballooned this year to include 62 eighth-graders from the Fruita 8–9 School and 327 local high school students. All of this year’s high school members attend Fruita 8–9 or Fruita Monument High School, but the chapter is the only one in District 51 and accepts any student who takes an agriculture class.

About 75 students attended a chapter meeting last week at Fruita Monument. Fruita Monument senior and FFA member Wyatt Vidmar said enrollment in agriculture classes has helped overall membership, but not everyone is active.

Those who do show up on a regular basis come from a wide variety of backgrounds and social groups, Vidmar said.

“It’s so diverse. We have people in band, sports, everything. It’s one of the few groups welcoming to everyone,” he said.

FFA stood for “Future Farmers of America” until 1988, when the group changed its name to the National FFA Organization. The group has been moving away for years from the stereotype that it only allows students to work with “plows, cows and sows,” according to Fruita Monument agriculture teacher Ryan Hudson.

“It’s not just about farming anymore. It’s a leadership group,” Hudson said.

Along with livestock, farm management, and dairy judging events, FFA conferences include extemporaneous speaking and debate events, mechanics contests and floriculture competitions that involve naming 50 types of plants from a list of 270 varieties and conducting flower shop business, such as job interviews and customer calls.

A team of four Fruita students placed first in floriculture at the state FFA competition in May and placed 19th in the U.S. at the National FFA Convention Oct. 19-22 in Indianapolis. Team member Janey Been, a junior at Fruita Monument, said she likes that FFA offers a variety of activities.

“Some clubs are only focused on one thing,” she said. “You can do a variety of things (in FFA). It’s not just the farming kids who join.”

Fruita FFA Vice President Kayla Calvin said she joined the group because she saw it as a leadership organization. The high school senior said she fit in the group even without much knowledge of agriculture.

“It’s all about growing as a person,” she said. “We do talk about soils and mechanics, but it’s also about skills you want to have going into college.”

Leadership is the new FFA emphasis. But the group hasn’t entirely shed its original goal of training the future agriculture leaders of America. Fruita FFA Adviser Jennie Hudson said her eighth-grade introduction to agriculture classes at Fruita 8-9 School are always full, even as fewer students enroll with a traditional farming background. Her students study everything from greenhouses to “farming in the sky,” an urban agriculture movement that involves growing food on top of city buildings.

Kelsi Bradley, a senior who competed on the floriculture team and serves as the chapter’s president, said FFA and agriculture classes at Fruita Monument have taught her modern agriculture is about more than crops and animals.

“My agriculture teachers opened my eyes. Agriculture is everywhere: in the food you eat and the clothes you wear,” she said.


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