The Kalama School District Future Farmers of America (FFA) Club is positively impacting the lives of middle school and high school students by developing their potential for leadership, growth, and career success through agricultural education.
The Club, along with the linked “Intro to Agriculture” class taught by Dale Groff, is packed with student enrichment activities and hands-on training – activities that have endured during the pandemic, thanks to some creative planning.
“We recently completed our annual apple juice event, where students pick apples from around the community and we smash and can apple juice for sale,” said Groff. “This year, we canned and sold 74 quarts of apple juice!
“Several of our in-person competitions are still in limbo,” he added, “but we’re organizing some virtual events as well as some small group, outdoor competitions like Logging Rodeo, Horse and Livestock Judging, and possibly Soils/Agronomy.”
Already this year, in Mr. Groff’s Into to Agriculture class, students have studied a variety of ag-related topics including food science, livestock management and small engines.
“Students performed an analysis on the cost of food production from farm to table,” explained Groff. “After calculating the cost of producing a gallon of milk, they compared their findings to what consumers pay at the store. The students were shocked to see the difference! This led to a discussion about why milk is so inexpensive despite production costs being high.”
Next up for these students is a crash course in small engine repair. With three mowers, a weed trimmer and a chainsaw motor on hand, Groff said his students will have the opportunity to complete a full teardown of the engines – an experience he hopes will lead to the formation of an Agriculture Mechanics team that can begin entering competitions this spring.
For the 18 students also involved in FFA Club, a variety of real-world skills are put to the test: time management, money management, team communication skills and job interview skills, to name a few. FFA events are mandated to be student-driven and student-developed from start to finish. Not only are advisors discouraged from interfering with student work, they’re not allowed to be anything more than observers.
“These experiences will help students understand the elements of gaining employment, training for employment and presenting oneself,” said Groff. “Though there’s a focus on agriculture, most of the activities relate to nearly every job sector you could imagine.”
About the educator
After graduating from Kelso High School in 1993, Dale Groff studied audio engineering and music/Jazz at Shoreline Community College, Lower Columbia College and Portland state University. In 2003, he earned a master’s degree in Education from PSU and was hired by Kalama School District to teach band and choir. Over the next 10 years, he found an interest in animal husbandry, farming and cheesemaking, which lead to the creation of a 25-50 head goat herd. In 2016, the district launched its Agriculture program and FFA Club, and Groff was asked to lead it based on his experience with livestock and farming.