County high schools are back in session and their ag departments and FFA programs are beginning to roll into the school year and in spite of budget cuts, the FFA remains a viable educational and life tool.

Linden High School
Linden’s FFA program will again range between 275 and 300 students with all the classes being full, said Heather Dyk, ag teacher and FFA coordinator.

“It’s a yes and no situation with the budget cuts,” she said. “It’s affected us a little but we use ag funding grants, receive a lot of donations, and the district, community and administration are very, very supportive.”

All three ag teaching positions have been retained, with Dean Archer the veteran with 20 years at Linden High School, Dyk with six years and Christopher Lemos with two years. .

Linden’s FFA participants are serving in various offices, among them Braden Loveday, the Sectional Office Treasurer and Brianna Gondalfo, a delegate to the National Convention. “I’m very excited for her and Braden,” said Dyk.

The county fair’s move from summer to September has caused a drop in the number of students participating from more than 40 to 25, with graduated seniors who would normally show animals and sell them at auction unable to do so due to being away at college.

However, Dyk said of the fair being in September, “It should become smoother next year because we’ll be used to it and better able to schedule.” .

The ag department is busy in a number of different arenas to improve the student’s learning such as fundraising with a scrap metal drive to purchase a plasma CAM and replacing a row of cherry trees on the school farm that had not been producing. Dyk said donations will gladly be accepted.

In June, thieves who knew how to pick cherries harvested the entire cherry crop in the middle of the night causing a $2,500 loss. However, the Linden community rose to the occasion and the school has received $4,100 in donations which will be used to buy equipment for the small farm and probably more security cameras.

Three courses are UC approved: Ag Science, Ag Biology and Ag Integrated Science, a freshman course, and other classes – ROP Ag Computer and ROP Ag Landscape are, said Dyke, “…articulated with Delta [the Ag Computer class] and the landscape course is articulated with Delta and Modesto Junior College.”

As might be expected from a rural community such as Linden, “The majority of our ag students and FFA members are ag-oriented kids from ag families,” Dyk said. “I’m excited for the upcoming year, in part because the FFA officers are great.”

East Union High School, Manteca

“Our FFA numbers are stable at 200 to 220 kids,” said John Hopper, ag teacher and FFA advisor. “And we have a small number who will be showing at the county fair because of its shift into September.”

Those showing at this year’s fair are taking 10 pigs, three sheep, four turkeys and four rabbits but no beef because, he said, “The costs of raising beef are high and it would be difficult to make any money.” And, as with most other FFA programs, East Union lost some college students because of the fair’s move.

The Manteca School District farm has been extensively upgraded during a process that began seven years ago when “money was available for the long term project,” Hopper said, adding that currently it’s a wait and see situation until the November election which will affect school district’s budgets throughout the state.

Additions to the ag program include a new plasma CAD, a paint booth, mills and lathes and an auto CAD system, everything ensconced in the new, modern and functional facility at the farm.

Courses that are UC approved as physical science include Ag Biology, Floral Design and Ag Earth Science.

Various East Union teams and individuals fared well in assorted competitions with Ben and Mitchell Liwanag both attending the FFA leadership conference in Washington, D.C.; the Co-Op Business contest team won the section competition; and McKenzie Huston was the high individual in the Co-Op Business contest; the Specialty Animal Team finished sixth in state; the Ag Mechanics team took 20th in the state.

Hopper said, “Our student mix is about 99 percent urban orientation and only one percent have an ag background but regardless of their backgrounds, they’re a dedicated and enthusiastic group.”

In the fundraising department, East Union has a plant sale, a BBQ at all home football games, an auction at the end of the school year and a district wide ag boosters club “that is very important to our funding and does terrific work on behalf of the district’s agriculture education programs.”

“We’ve established a loan program for students to finance their projects,” Hopper said, noting that the innovative program in conjunction with Oak Valley Bank, requires a project plan, a business plan, and this with an application must be approved by the loan board. This gives participants real world experience regarding business, planning, loans and of course, paying back the loaned amount.”

The loan program is scheduled to start in January 2013.

Escalon High School
Bruce Campbell, ag teacher and FFA advisor, said the FFA program had a “very good and successful year for the size school we are [870 students]. Our FFA participation is more than 350 kids and we average 70 to 80 kids attending field days. They are a competitive group.”

“Participation in FFA continues to grow,” said Jennifer Terpstra, ag teacher and FFA advisor. “The competitive judging teams seem to draw in the most kids and I see participation in field days is likely to increase.” The FFA population is built on a 50-50 mix of ag oriented and urban students.

Campbell and Terpstra agreed that moving the San Joaquin County fair to September curtailed participation significantly, with about 30 Escalon students planning to attend instead of double that amount at fairs held in the summer.

“Another challenge for our students is that our sports programs are going at top speed in September and about half the FFA kids are also playing sports, so there’s a conflict” Campbell said.

Despite the conflicts, Escalon’s Computer Applications team and the Fruit Tree Judging teams were State Champions and other teams finished in the top five of state competition, among them Scrap Books (second), Vegetable (third), Farm Records (fourth), Farm Business Management (fourth), Ag Mechanics (fifth), and Ag Pest Control (fifth).

Individuals setting a high standard were Mary Steves, chosen as the National Agriscience Student of the Year and elected to a fourth term as a state officer, and Lindsey Anderson is a California representative to the national FFA.

Escalon has UC-approved courses in Floral Design, Ag Biology and Animal Science.

Budget and funding concerns have brought out the best in the Escalon community, according to Terpstra. “In terms of our ag grant, everyone in the state had a reduction. However, we have a very active parents ag boosters group that raises money just for FFA which pays for transportation and other needs that come up.”

Among the fundraising activities is the “sale of some sweatshirts and hats. We sold cookbooks of local residents last year, and we’ve sold ad spaces for the ag banquet placemats,” Terpstra said.

The FFA officers came up with the motto: “On a mission to protect the tradition” which reinforces Terpstra’s description of the program: “We’re always looking for ways to encourage kids and keep them involved. Plus, we’ve been very fortunate with good kids, good families and a school with excellent tradition.”

Ripon High School
Ripon’s ag program has been buffeted by the state’s budget cuts with an ag teaching position being slashed last year but, said Ryan Patterson, ag teacher and FFA advisor, “The community stepped up and supported retaining the position.” Subsequently, the Ripon school district covered the position in 2012 and “will do so for two to three years.”

“We need to make due in these times of shaky budgets, just like everyone else,” he said. “We’re still doing what must be done.”

That was good news to the 230 kids in the FFA program, an increase from 215 a year ago.

Patterson said, regarding the county fair shifting to September that “we’re rolling with the punches and doing the best we can.” Patterson and the FFA program knew ahead of time the fair would be held in September and that “unintended consequences would result and everybody understands that we’d just have to deal with it.”

The school’s teams did well in statewide competition with the Ag Mechanics team finishing second in state, the Farm Power team placing third, Small Engines were fifth, and the Records team was sixth.

Fundraisers included selling fireworks in town, a spaghetti feed, and selling placemat ads, and in the community service department Ripon’s FFA has been conducting The Giving Tree for two years where “50 to 60 needy families receive presents. The program starts in early December,” said Patterson.

UC approved courses include Ag Biology and Life Science.

“The largest part of our FFA population is town kids, which is fine,” Patterson said. “We’re very fortunate here in Ripon as the community really supports our program.”

Tokay High School, Lodi
Tokay High School’s FFA program is stable at 200 kids, the two ag teachers have full classes with between 30 to 35 students, and the ag and FFA programs have been affected by the budget cuts but are using creative means of funding them. In 2011, Tokay had about 140 kids enrolled in the ag program.

“The kids in our program are about five percent ag oriented,” said Rebecca Freeman, ag teacher and FFA advisor. “We’re able to get kids involved with ag aspects and include urban kids in ag events, give them exposure to agriculture.”

Freeman said, “We’re rebuilding the FFA program, changing it’s perception on campus and establishing a foundation for the future. Vocational courses are also being brought back and that’s very good news.”

While the fair in September causes conflicts with other school activities, she said those able to adapt will be showing goats, turkeys, pigs and rabbits this year.

The teams Tokay took to the state finals in San Luis Obispo were all brand new and inexperienced but “it was a good experience for everyone. We learned a lot and had fun doing it,” Freeman said.

Educational programs include the ever popular Floral Design class which is UC approved and is also an ROP class and the school received a Food for All grant which emphasizes farming for fitness. The grant helps “fight local hunger,” said Freeman. “It gives back to the school community and delivers education regarding the importance of vegetables.”

The grant came from the National FFA and only 150 grants were awarded nationwide.

Although Tokay is located near the heart of Lodi the school has a 1½ acre farm where cherries, peaches, squash, grapes and other crops are grown. There is also a greenhouse where vegetables are grown in six raised beds, along with some fruits.

Tracy High School
“We have close to 380 ag students, a nice increase over the 320 we had in 2011,” noted Nikki Maddux, FFA advisor and ag teacher. “During the budget cuts we lost no sections and retained our four full time teachers.”

However, she said school districts are “waiting until November to determine their budget situation” but Tracy was fortunate as “we received one of the last D-1 grants for classroom remodeling. Building remodeling begins in the summer of 2013 and we’ll be moving in from portables in December of next year.”

Two classrooms will be converted to lab-type classrooms with the third becoming the ag science classroom, primarily for welding. The rooms will have smart boards, LCD projectors, and will house the school’s plasma CAM which will run in the spring when orders for metal design work come in.

“Our welding teacher Pat Rooney has done a good job of finding art and ornamental projects for our plasma CAM to create,” Maddux said. “And we have an Ag Science Academy here, too.”

The FFA president Molly Matthew and her fellow officers “are gung-ho” about creating an ag day on campus in the school’s quad sometime in November, Maddux said. Tractors, equipment, and displays will provide a hands-on ag experience and local farmers will be on hand to share their agricultural expertise with students and faculty.

Maddux said, “We’re not down that many as far as showing at the fair is concerned. Our kids will be showing 10 to 12 sheep and goats and diary are up and pigs are about the same. So, we’ll be represented fairly normally at the fair.”

“We’ve concentrated more on chapter level activities over the last year with emphasis on record books and community service, areas our officers said they wanted to focus on”, she said. “But that doesn’t mean we weren’t well represented nationally, as Damon Pombo, a graduate, was the National Specialty Animal Proficiency winner.”

Tracy has a number of courses that are UC approved (as either lab science or elective science credit), including Ag Biology, Ag Earth Science, Wildlife and Natural Resources, Animal Physiology, and Veterinarian Science. The ROP program includes welding, wood, landscaping, and meat processing.

About the student makeup in the ag program Maddux said, “It’s weird here: about 15 percent of our students are from ag backgrounds but we’ve lost some students because their parents don’t want them to stay in agriculture as a career.”

But there are more ag-oriented students in the freshman and sophomore classes, so she expects the overall percentage to change over the next couple of years.

Sierra High School, Manteca
“Budget cuts affected us last year more than they did the previous year,” said Amanda Gardner, ag teacher and FFA advisor at Manteca’s Sierra High School. “We’ve had to prioritize our events and still try to fit them in to the budget. What budget cuts mean is more expenses for our students.”

She said everyone is waiting for the November’s election, which will determine budgets.

FFA numbers are up, Gardner said. “Our numbers are strong. We have 255 students in the program.” About 70 percent of the FFA members are from urban areas with about 30 percent having an ag orientation.

Despite the county fair’s move to September creating challenges, Sierra’s small animals projects have grown, especially rabbits with 19 FFA members showing at the fair. “The kids are doing smaller projects geared toward the fair,” said Gardner.

“Our small projects are due partially to the economy – small animals are less expensive to raise – and to the enthusiasm of our kids who want to show at the fair,” she said.

Overall, Sierra did well in a variety of FFA events, including two members who “did well in Diversified Ag Production Proficiency, and our Public Speaking team took gold. Six kids went to the state conference in Fresno,” Gardner said.

Sierra’s FFA conducted fundraisers to augment the school funding, selling beef jerky sticks raised $1,000 and the FFA has a barbecue at all home football games which generates about $1,500 per game. Gardner also said the two annual Drive-Thru Barbecue’s have done very well.

Sierra has two classes – Floriculture and Animal Sciences – that are articulated with Modesto Junior College, which is an agreement with the high school and colleges in which the courses are aligned for all participating high schools, just as if it was a college class; college credit is earned for these classes.

As far as updates of the ag facility are concerned, the two metal shops are being updated under a five-year plan and the floral refrigerator is being replaced.

Lodi High School
As are the other San Joaquin County FFA programs, Lodi High School is waiting to see what happens in November and, said Jessalee Goehring, a nine-year veteran ag teacher at Lodi and FFA advisor, “We’re aware of the current budget constraints and that more could be on the horizon.”

FFA participants number 250 and she explained that urban students make up the majority of the FFA membership and “they’re very interested in getting involved in agriculture and are interested in business, plants and the marketing aspects of ag.” She added that ag-oriented students come primarily from the Lockeford, Acampo and Clements areas.

“We’re here to build career, life and leadership skills through participation in field days, leadership events, and to develop an awareness of the ag industry’s importance,” Goehring said. “People tend to be naïve about the huge impact ag has on the economy, jobs, health and people’s lives in general.”

Lodi will be hosting a farm day with about 300 third-graders descending on the school campus to learn about agriculture from displays, farmers and participating FFA students, freshmen to seniors. “This event is early because of the fair and our FFA helpers will learn how to teach, and interact with people while answering questions about ag.”

The September county fair means making sure kids participating keep up with their classes. Lodi FFA members showing at the fair will be taking 14 steers, somewhat surprising in these trying economic times, five rabbits, six turkeys and increased numbers of goats, pigs and lambs.

There has been a general upgrade and remodeling of all classrooms at Lodi High School and three courses being taught in those classrooms are UC approved: Ag Biology, Earth Science and Floral Design. “The Floral Design course is very hands-on and the attendance numbers are very, very good at 70 students comprising two full classes,” Goehring said.

Competitively, sophomore Cole Lauchland took first at State in Ag Science and will be going to the Nationals in Indianapolis, Ind., as well Courtney Miller and Yesinia Huerta – both graduates – as national proficiency finalists.

Fundraisers – a poinsettia sale in November, an annual crab feed, and a wine raffle – along with the Lodi FFA Ag Boosters (a parent group that raises $25,000 annually) will provide $6,000 in scholarships, help with kids showing at the county fair, supply chaperones at assorted events, and BBQ for FFA events.

The FFA is also starting a vineyard and creating murals for the Grape Festival in September.

In addition to Goehring, ag teacher and FFA advisor Brent Newport is in his 17th year at Lodi High School and Ben Garrett has two years at Lodi.

Bear Creek High School, Stockton
Bear Creek has just started an ag program with Tiffany Trexler the ag teacher.