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Hotchkiss FFA Chapter is growing strong

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Hotchkiss FFA chapter members attended the District Leadership Conference last fall in Collbran, where they were named the outstanding district chapter. Almost half of Hotchkiss students are involved in FFA. The annual member auction and Alumni Associatio

National FFA Week happens Feb. 17-24. To celebrate the organization's past, present and future accomplishments, chapters across the nation are gearing up for a week of activities. Because it falls during the week of winter break, Olathe, Delta, Cedaredge and Hotchkiss high school chapters will celebrate FFA Week Feb. 24-March 3.

Hotchkiss High School's FFA chapter has a full week of activities planned, said Coley Wondra, now in his fifth year of teaching agriculture at HHS. Events include an Agriculture Olympics, stick horse races, a movie night (John Wayne's "The Cowboys"), Quiz Bowl (Knowledge Bowl, but with agriculture-related questions), and the annual Junk Yard Wars, where classes compete in making objects from recycled materials. Catapults and levers, sculptures, a helicopter, a dog, "And everything in between," have come from past competitions, said Wondra. It all depends on what materials are available.

Throughout the week chapter members perform community service projects, serve all of the teachers a pancake breakfast, hold a Corn Toss tournament, and compete in dodge ball with Cedaredge and Delta chapter members.

One interesting activity is called "The Escape Room," where students are locked in a room and can only escape by solving a series of puzzles. The activity promotes teamwork, critical thinking and other skills.

FFA, short for Future Farmers of America, began in the early part of the 20th century as a way to provide agricultural training and education to youth and adults living in rural parts of the country. At the time, according to the FFA website, FFA.org, America's youth were losing interest in working on the family farm.

Its inaugural meeting was held in 1928 in Kansas City, Mo.

Today, FFA's mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The organization boasts 8,568 chapters spread across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and roughly 650,000 members aged 12-21.

If anyone thinks there isn't much interest in the future of agriculture, think again. Started in 1981 by Teresa Burns, the Hotchkiss chapter now has some 80 student members, of whom about 40 are actively involved in all aspects of the chapter. "Agriculture is a huge part of the community," said Wondra, and FFA is a big part of the school.

Cedaredge and Delta high schools also have very active FFA chapters, said Wondra, and chapters often work together on events and projects. "As chapters we've done a good job of unifying students," he said.

FFA is also about more than agriculture. Through its diverse programs, members can prepare for careers in science, education, horticulture, production, forestry and other fields. One of the most important things to know about the organization is that all students are welcome to join, "Whether they are involved in agriculture or not," said senior chapter president Morgan Miller.

Students work year-round to prepare for state FFA Career Development Events, individual and team skills contests based on agricultural education instruction. Among its 19 contests are ag technical and mechanical systems (covering 14 skill areas), employment skills, farm and agribusiness management, Parliamentary procedure, veterinary science, and a freshman Quiz Bowl. Last year Hotchkiss placed third in the Livestock Evaluation event. This year, they are aiming for first.

Student participation in FFA extends beyond the school year. During summer months members participate in the FFA state convention in June, then focus on the Delta County Fair held each August, giving them an opportunity for community service and putting to use a long list of skills learned throughout the years. Many participate in showing animals and crafts through 4-H.

"Then it's back to school," said Wondra.

As part of FFA's public service component, the Hotchkiss chapter also hosts an annual Easter Egg hunt at the Delta County Fairgrounds, which this year happens March 31, and an annual Halloween party at the fairgrounds. Both events are free and open to the public.

To pay for all of their events, activities and trips, fundraising is a big part of FFA. Hotchkiss's biggest fundraiser is the annual Labor Auction. Chapter members each commit to performing eight hours of labor and are auctioned off to the public. Work might include cleaning windows or staining fences, working in the garden, mucking out barns, and even branding. Funds go to a number of events, including the annual Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

During the auction the Hotchkiss FFA Alumni Association hosts an all-you-can-eat Rocky Mountain oyster fundraiser dinner (and for those who aren't fans of the "oysters," chicken tenders are also available), with proceeds going to the Alumni Scholarship Fund.

This year's auction and dinner will be held Wednesday, March 21. (More information can be found on the Hotchkiss FFA Alumni and Hotchkiss FFA Chapter Facebook pages.)

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