Learning leadership, agriculture


By Jonathan E. Coleman
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More than 20 posters lined the halls of Hickory Ridge High School last week, displaying fun facts like “Apples are part of the rose family” or “Agriculture is the leading employer in the United States.”

“We had a lot of stuff going on during lunch,” said Chelsea Clark. “We had ‘Corny Corn Facts,’ ‘Do You Really Know What You’re Eating?’ (Students) would have a fact of the day and if you found it you would get a prize.”

The events were an effort to educate students about the school’s FFA Club during National FFA week.

“It used to stand for Future Farmers of America, but in 1988, they just changed it to the National FFA to have greater diversity and to include more people,” said Brian Conrad, the FFA secretary at Hickory Ridge.

In just its first year, the club has been pretty active. There are 34 members, and club advisor Abby Carriker keeps them busy, whether it’s tending to the greenhouse, doing Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects or representing the club with booths at county fairs and other educational outlets.

“We’ve tried to make sure we are active,” she said. “For one reason, I have students that I had at Central (Cabarrus High School), and that was a very active club. But also, for new people, they want to join because of what they get to do.”

The more a club can offer, the easier it is to attract new members, she said.

Members of the club are also students in Carriker’s horticulture classes.

“My students, they understand that horticulture really affects everybody,” she said. “It’s such a practical subject… If we’re supposed to be preparing students for the work force, we have to prepare them for what’s available.”

To help prepare students, Carriker has them do SAE projects, in an effort to get hands-on experience in fields they might be interested in pursuing as a career.

“The point is, they’re doing something themselves that they haven’t done before,” Carriker said. “The point is, they’re finishing a task. The nice thing is that they see what they can accomplish.”

Conrad, who has considered a career in the landscaping business, replanted a flower bed for his project.

“I planned it out, got the plant I wanted, laid it out on the ground and tilled up the dirt and planted,” he said.

For his project, sophomore Ben Jakiela got a job with Dulin Mechanical, a heating and air conditioning service company. While it’s not directly related to agriculture, Jakiela said the skills and discipline he’s learned through the job will help him in whatever career he pursues.

“Personal growth. Career success. Leadership. That’s it. I’ve learned all of those in FFA,” he said. “Taking the horticulture classes and doing the projects, it’s taken me to the job I have now. It keeps on building.”

And those lessons, Carriker said, are among the most important she can teach her students.

“I can look back at when I wan in FFA and I know what I got out of it,” she said. “A lot of them don’t even realize that they’re growing as they go through it. What I want them to get out of it is just a work ethic and respect… for work, for people, for everything.”

• Contact Jonathan E. Coleman at [email protected] or 704-789-9105.

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