FFA students gather for state convention in Palmer

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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - This week, 150 young Alaskans are gathered in Palmer to learn about farm living, and how to make a living on the farm.

The seventh through 12th graders are members of FFA, which used to be know as Future Farmers of America. The organization shortened the name several years ago, because its emphasis expanded beyond farm life.

FFA chapters in Alaska are holding their statewide convention, at Matanuska Experiment Farm and at Matanuska–Susitna College.

State adviser Kevin Fochs said, "We're trying to teach them good life skills that they can use really for any career, but ideally agriculture is where we're focused to try to show them there's a future in agriculture."

The middle and high school age members compete in a series of activities, which are aimed at improving their career and leadership skills.

In addition to hands-on training in farm machinery, welding and electrical repair, topics discussed include public speaking, job interviews, marine technology, parliamentary procedure, environmental and natural resources, veterinary medicine and agricultural issues.

Melissa Clark, a state officer for FFA in Ninilchik, Alaska, said members are very dedicated to learning.

"Oh, it's 100 percent important," Clark said. "Agriculture is the 'first job.' We wouldn't be here without agriculture - especially in Alaska - especially with the food insecurity that we have. Agriculture is 100 percent the most important thing that we need to deal with."

The youth organization has a growing presence in Alaska. Currently, there are 280 members, among 15 chapters in Fairbanks, North Pole, Delta Junction, Palmer, Anchorage, Ninilchik, Hope, Soldotna, Kenai, Kake and Kodiak, and several groups of home-schooled students.

Fochs said the Alaska chapters won an award last year for having the highest percentage growth in membership for the entire country.

The 41st annual state convention continues, in Palmer, through April 21.

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