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Chatfield FFA extends streak as one of the top chapters in the state, honored for its work on mental health

The Chatfield FFA chapter placed third in the National Chapter Award Program and was the overall winner in the Models of Innovation category for its #BreaktheStigma Challenge.

Chatfield FFA awards
Chatfield High School seniors Lexie Hamersma and Sydney Allen hold awards won by the Chatfield FFA Chapter during the Minnesota FFA convention on April 24-26, 2022.
Contributed by Chatfield FFA

MINNEAPOLIS ― For the first time in nearly three years due to the pandemic, Minnesota FFA members gathered in the Twin Cities for the annual state convention on April 24-26.

General sessions, workshops, state competitions and the selection of new Minnesota FFA state officers took place at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, 3M Arena at Mariucci - University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

MN FFA 2021 officers.jpg
The Minnesota FFA 2021-22 officer team looks on during the 2022 Minnesota FFA state convention in Minneapolis on April 26, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek

The organization’s 93rd convention took place during a benchmark year of 15,000 student members, the highest since the 1980s, according to a press release from the Minnesota FFA Foundation. Nineteen new FFA chapters have been founded in the state in the past three years, indicating growth for FFA throughout the pandemic.

Val Aarsvold is the executive director of the Minnesota FFA Foundation, which puts on the Minnesota FFA convention in partnership with the Minnesota FFA Association and the Minnesota FFA Alumni. Aarsvold said many of the students at the convention had only experienced the convention when it was held virtually.

"A lot of excitement among the ones who are experiencing it for the first time, and a lot of excitement for the ones who had been here and knew how fun this place could be," said Aarsvold.

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MN new FFA state officers.jpg
The 2022-23 Minnesota FFA state officer team, including president Emma Kuball from the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown FFA chapter, vice president Natalie Beckendorf of Renville County West FFA, state secretary Makenzie Alberts of Pine Island FFA, treasurer Brynn Lozinski from the MACCRAY FFA, reporter Caidyn Johnson from the Fertile-Beltrami FFA, and sentinel Noah Erickson of Morris Area FFA.
Noah Fish / Agweek

It was a big year for convention attendance, said Aarsvold, with 4,992 members tallied at the state event.

"Which to us, is an extremely big convention, and we're excited that so many chose to be here," she said. "We actually saw growth in our FFA across the state during COVID, because I think people wanted something to be part of, and to belong to."

Ben Beranek, a senior member of the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Pioneer Express FFA, said it was the first time for him and most of his chapter to experience the in-person convention.

For Beranek, who grew up on a dairy farm north of New Ulm and plans to take over his family's operation one day, his favorite part of the convention came during a demonstration event.

"Getting to show up the city kids at pulling a calf," he said.

Chatfield shines again

The state convention marked another successful year for Chatfield FFA, which finished third in the National Chapter Award Program, making it seven years in a row that it's been a top-three chapter in the state.

Stacy Fritz has been the agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at Chatfield High School for the last 18 years. She said that over a decade ago, she realized for the chapter to earn recognition at the state and national level, they had to align the program's standards with what FFA wanted.

So together as a chapter each year, they tackle the application process for the National Chapter Award Program, which is designed to recognize FFA chapters that actively implement the mission and strategies of the organization.

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Fritz said the chapter's goal of being one of the top in the state began around 12 or 13 years ago, when the Chatfield FFA officer team was at the Miracle Birth Center doing a leadership training.

"I pointed at the top 10 chapters on the wall, and said one day we'll be there," said Fritz. "And we ended up being there."

It took a number of years, she said, first to break the top 10, and then to break the top five.

"And then the next goal was to get 3-Star Chapter at nationals, which we've done now four years in a row," said Fritz. "So it's building that level of excellence every year."

Chatfield FFA was also the overall winner in the Models of Innovation category, for its #BreaktheStigma Challenge.

"The idea behind it was that we break the stigma, and talk about mental health," said Fritz. "Our community has had a couple of losses recently, and our students have struggled quite a bit because of that — so between that and the pandemic, it was an important time to put that together."

Chatfield FFA partnered with the Minnesota Farm Bureau Foundation to host a virtual run/walk, using proceeds raised from it to host a safeTALK Training in the community.

"It was something that was really important to us because mental health matters in our school," said Lexie Hamersma, a Chatfield senior and FFA member. "Mental health matters, and you have to put yourself before you can put other things."

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For Chatfield senior Sydney Allen, FFA has been a big part of her life since her freshman year, and each year she's become more involved with the chapter. She said that's due to her adviser.

"(Fritz) has always made sure that everyone in the chapter is involved, and made sure that we all know we matter in this world," said Allen. "She's always been an inspiration to all of us."

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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