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Kidder County FFA member Bradyn Lachenmeier takes orders at the chapter's annual prime rib dinner on Nov. 11, 2017, at the Tappen (N.D.) City Hall. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Kidder County FFA transitions to a new school while growing their chapter

TAPPEN, N.D. — The charter for the FFA chapter in Kidder County was signed in 1960. Pete Martin, who has been the chapter advisor for 17 years, says the names of his father and many local farmers are on the charter.

Back then, it was the Tappen FFA. About 10 years ago, students from Steele, N.D., located about 14 miles from Tappen, joined the program, which became Kidder County FFA.

This year, the high schools in the two communities merged, bringing all students to the larger community of Steele. That's meant changes for Kidder County FFA and ag education classes, but Martin and chapter members, speaking during the chapter's annual prime rib dinner and labor auction at the Tappen City Hall on Nov. 11, say the transition has been smooth so far.

Shaye Koester, a senior and the chapter president, always has gone to school in Steele. Having ag classes in Steele rather than Tappen has made transitioning between classes more efficient for her, and she believes it has given the chapter a larger, more diverse membership. Madelyn Schmidt, a freshman who formerly attended school in Tappen, agrees the change seems to be working out.

The chapter had 40-45 members last year, and this year has about 65, Martin says. In class, he has noticed "many more personalities, which I think is the biggest benefit teachers see."

Schmidt says the chapter is young, with Koester the only senior officer. So, she's proud of the chapter's accomplishments and excited for the future.

Schmidt, the chapter treasurer, in October placed second in her division at the National FFA Agriscience Fair for a project she began as an eighth grader that explored whether grass-fed or grain-fed beef produce more methane.

"I found out that the grass-fed diets produce more methane gas, and this is because of the enteric fermentation cycle, which is a digestive system tract that occurs in the rumen which is the first part of the cow's stomach," she says. "In the rumen there are enzymes designed to break down the starches in the corn, so that's why corn is being digested so much more quicker and less methane gas has time to be produced."

While agriculture always has been a big part of Schmidt's life, she says FFA and teachers like Martin have taught her about problems in agriculture and helped interest her in exploring her experiment.

Along with the prime rib dinner, the chapter participates in various FFA events and contests. They sell fruit and pizza as a fundraiser and run the Tappen Farmers Market. They try to involve the entire community during National FFA week events. They've built buildings for members of the community, the city ball diamond, the local fairgrounds and a team penning club. They've done landscape projects for the assisted living center.

"We're always looking for ways to be involved in the community and make sure everyone is aware of FFA and the great program that it is," Koester says.

Martin still is moving the ag department from Tappen to Steele, where a new shop, classroom and greenhouse are being built. The greenhouse will be bigger than the one they had in Tappen, so Martin is excited about possibilities in trying out aquaponics or hydroponics. He also wants to add a butcher and meat slab down the road.

But there are challenges to overcome in the move. The chapter in past years has started plants in the greenhouse, then grew produce in a garden in Tappen to sell at the Farmers Market. Whether that makes sense to continue in Tappen or move in some form to Steele remains to be seen.

Martin sees a bright future for his students and agriculture in general. The education provided in high school agriculture education programs gives students a good foundation to capture open jobs, he says.

Schmidt says FFA has been a great way to build leadership skills as well as develop friendships. Both she and Koester joined as seventh graders and encourage students to try FFA, even if for just one year, and see if they find something that interests them.

"There's never a dull moment in our FFA chapter," Schmidt says.