FFA Alive and Well in New Hampshire

April 18, 2014

by Laurie Jasper

Think of it as a “wickedly historic” experience.  The 84th Annual Convention of the Granite State Association of FFA brought nearly 400 future farmers to the historic Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, April 10-12.  Ten FFA chapters from New Hampshire attended the “Wicked Blue and Awesome Gold” themed event, including a contingent of 21 students and five chaperones representing Alvirne High School.

Maria Jasper VanderWoude, FFA executive director for 22 years, works very hard to ensure that each year’s convention is the best one ever.  Maria, an Alvirne class of 1980 alumna, joined FFA in 1976 and has been involved ever since.  Her husband and two children are also FFA alumni.  “The convention has gone very well,” Maria said.  “The students are very well behaved and enthusiastic, and the hotel staff is very complimentary of them.  We are fortunate to be able to hold this event at such a beautiful location and have such a good relationship with the hotel.  It is nice to see the students passionate about something meaningful.  FFA gives them something positive to be proud of.”

Future Farmers of America was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928 to prepare future generations for success in the field of agriculture.  FFA’s mission is to make a positive difference in students’ lives by developing their leadership potential, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

In 1988, the delegates at the 61st National FFA Convention voted to change the organization’s official name from Future Farmers of America to the National FFA Organization.  This change was made to recognize that FFA is not only for those interested in farming, but it is also for those with interests in the science, business and technology of agriculture, in addition to production farming.

Students from throughout New Hampshire competed in various events at the Mount Washington Resort, and many were awarded ribbons, scholarships and prizes.  Many of the winners of the state events will represent New Hampshire at the annual National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., in October.  Examples of some of the contests include: Career Development Events in impromptu speaking, animal welfare, environmental science and natural resources, agricultural sales, forestry, extemporaneous speaking and prepared public speaking.  In addition, many students showcased their talents at the agriscience fair and demonstrations.  Throughout the convention, members were encouraged to “step outside of the box” and meet new people and try new things.  “It’s not the color of the ribbon, but the courage of your heart,” shared one adviser.

With so many events occurring in three short days, Maria VanderWoude relies on volunteers from across the state to judge the various events.  Among those who helped at the convention were Lorraine Merrill, commissioner, NH Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food; Molly Connors, the governor’s policy advisor; Walpole State Representative Tara Sad, chairman of Environment and Agriculture; Hudson State Representative Robert Haefner; and Hudson State Representative Shawn Jasper.

The three days of events were packed with contests, meetings and several general sessions of the entire group.  During each general session, one of the six 2013-2014 State FFA team officers made his or her retiring address.  Megan Ferentino, a 2013 Alvirne graduate, completed her term as state treasurer.  “FFA has helped me with my confidence and has given me friends for life.  It taught me to give everyone a chance,” Megan shared.

The convention also offered the students the chance to have some fun, with dances on Thursday and Friday evenings, Karaoke in The Cave, video games, two pools and a nightly bonfire.

Friday afternoon’s general session paid tribute to the late Emery P. Booska, and presented the Emery P. Booska Memorial Award.  Emery Booska passed away on January 12 at the age of 80.  Many from Hudson may remember Emery as the vocational agricultural instructor, school farm manager and vocational programs supervisor at Alvirne High School from 1956-1967.  In 1967, Emery began his career at the University of New Hampshire.  He retired in 2001 as the assistant dean of Administration for the College of Life Science and Agriculture.  He continued to judge and participate in FFA events throughout his life, and was presented with the Honorary American FFA Degree in 2011.  Emery’s wife, Suzanne, attended the convention at the Mount Washington this year.  “We came to the conventions every year.  He was very well liked, loved by all.  His passion was for agriculture education, teaching and spreading the word of agriculture in New Hampshire and beyond,” said Suzanne.

Alvirne Junior Cassie Girouard joined FFA two years ago to meet people and work with animals.  This was her first convention.  “I have had a great time at the convention.  It was nice and peppy.  Our group bonded more, and I’ve made a lot of new friends with the same interests,” said Cassie.

This was Alvirne Senior Kayla Gendreau’s third convention.  “I’m sad this is my last convention, but so happy to compete and have the experience,” she said.  “I plan to join the alumni group and stay involved.  I first took retail floral arranging with Ms. Dube, and she got me involved.  I’ve competed in forestry and national resources, and been a delegate for Alvirne.  FFA has boosted my confidence and helped me get over my fear of public speaking, and I’ve met lots of new people.”  Kayla plans to study civil engineering in the fall.

“Our students represent Hudson well,” said Jenna Dube, Alvirne teacher and FFA adviser for 13 years.  “The convention creates enthusiasm, and hopefully their enthusiasm continues,” Jenna explained.  “As someone said, ‘it’s stepping outside the box, coming to a place where they are far from home, and doing things outside their comfort zone to be judged.’  They are always glad they did it.  It is a great experience for them.”