Nicole Lee is ready to take your order at Spring Valley’s A & W.
Nicole Lee is ready to take your order at Spring Valley’s A & W. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

The FFA barnyard, an annual tradition during National FFA Week, inspired senior Nicole Lee to join the Spring Valley-Wykoff chapter six years ago as a seventh grader.

“I joined FFA because my favorite part of elementary school was when we got to go down to the FFA barnyard, and I knew that I wanted to do that when I was a ‘big kid,’” stated Lee. As a “big kid” now, she is a regular at the barnyard, showing animals to the elementary school students in the district each year during FFA Week. 

“I really enjoy all the new things that you get to learn along the way in FFA.  There’s always something new to do and learn,” she said.

She is chapter sentinel and is involved in many FFA activities.  Until this year, she helped out a lot with the Partners in Active Support (PALS) program within the school.  The PALS program is a gradual introduction to agriculture for elementary students through FFAers visiting their classrooms, much like the Urban Ag program that the members share with students in Rochester area schools, except on a more regular basis and most often without animals in tow.

However, her experiences go beyond the walls of the school. 

“FFA can take you anywhere as long as you let it,” she said. “Just the summer tours alone, I’ve gotten to go to the John Deere factory in Iowa and to a really nice bison farm twice.  We got to learn how they manufacture, assemble and test the John Deere tractors, and we were all able to go out and feed the bison.  On another summer tour, we were able to go out to Canterbury Park, a horse racetrack, and see how they take care of the horses, and we got to watch them use a special horse swimming pool for exercise.”   

FFA helps give her a complete education, she added.  For example, in her career development event (CDE), nursery and landscaping, she uses math skills to find out how much nitrogen is in the fertilizer or how much fertilizer is needed for certain plants. 

It isn’t just specific skills she needed to master in FFA.  In order to go to the competition for a CDE, members need to put in up to 15 hours of study time. 

“It really helps you to realize that you need to work hard for what you want, and I would say that lots of parts in FFA help to show you how to do the right thing,” she said. “Our corn drive, for example, where all the money earned is given to those in need, is a great example of helping raise money for others who need it more than just the chapter.”

Her skills in FFA can be applied even to her work at Spring Valley’s A & W restaurant and her experiences there can be applied to FFA. 

“The great thing about FFA is that it doesn’t only have to do with farming, as most people think,” she explained. “FFA helps you in all aspects of life.  It helps build character and other great leadership qualities.  It really shows that you can do anything if you just do your best.” 

Her Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) is actually her job as shift leader at the A&W.  She chose that because she already puts a lot of time into her job since if she’s not at school she’s usually working. 

“It has given me several important skills,” she said. “Working directly with customers teaches you how to have patience and how to defuse a situation and make things better…there might be a customer that is very demanding, and you have to know how to effectively defuse the situation.  You don’t even need patience specifically for customers.  If there is a very difficult co-worker, I have to know how to handle them because I am a shift leader.  You also learn qualities of hard work.  As a shift leader, I have many responsibilities to make sure the shift runs smoothly and goes well for the business.  I am one of the few people that can work both as a server and a cook.” 

While she is immersed in work and school at the moment, she is still uncertain about her future. 

“I honestly have no idea where my life will take me right now.  I’m currently thinking about going into the banking system, so hopefully, I can get an internship somewhere and see how that plays out.  I plan to go to college in the future, but I am still not sure where,” she said. “FFA has shown me that I can do anything that I put my mind to, so I can take classes that I have never done before to learn new things.  Having FFA in my background will show colleges that I am a hard worker and I have leadership qualities that they desire.”   

Given the opportunity, she’d gladly repeat her years in FFA, from seventh grade all the way to this, her senior year. One change she would make if she was given another chance would be to go to the national convention.  She said it was a really great opportunity that she missed out on.  Although she won’t be repeating FFA, she plans to support FFA even though it’s not possible to do everything over again. 

“Whether that is being a mentor for a CDE or donating, I want to help out,” she said. “I would say that FFA is something very important to me.  Throughout the years, it has become a part of me – it has been in my life since seventh grade.  For the past six years, I’ve always been doing something with FFA, and overall, it has made me into the person I am today.  Without FFA, I would be lacking lots of the leadership skills and other important qualities that FFA helps to develop.”   

Lee asserted that FFA membership is beneficial for all students.

“FFA has many opportunities to take you anywhere you let it.  It is a great organization for young people to be involved in.  It really will help them grow to be good citizens of the community and maybe even take them places they never thought possible,” she said. “I would tell other students that they need to join FFA.  It has something to offer for every person, not just farmers.  It offers many opportunities that you might not find elsewhere.”