Rio graduate ‘grateful’ for role as FFA State Officer

February 14, 2019

RIO — Recent Rio High School graduate Ashley Hagenow essentially looked in the mirror to find examples of what FFA does for the Wisconsin students who join.

She’s busy and getting busier promoting the organization for National FFA Week, which is Feb. 16-23, because she’s an FFA state officer.

As an officer, she serves middle and high school students by leading workshops in their schools, attending national and state FFA conferences, and after her year of service ends in June, she’ll study agriculture communications and marketing at the University of Minnesota.

“Serving as a state officer is an exhilarating and fulfilling experience,” Hagenow said, “and one that I will be forever grateful for.”

In every community she visits, Hagenow finds something unique, she said. In Randolph, for example, the Poynette resident met with the since-retired teacher and FFA adviser Keith Gundlach, who provides Randolph-Cambria FFA students with a 40-acre parcel of land for gardening and animal projects.

“The hands-on learning experiences FFA students gain in programs like his is incredible,” said Hagenow, who in her role as state officer works closely with the state FFA president, Walworth Big Foot graduate and University of Wisconsin-Madison freshman Amelia Hayden.

Together they traveled to Washington, D.C., in July for a national FFA state officer summit, where they networked with 475 state officers from across the country. Since then, they’ve led workshops in school districts including Lodi, Sauk Prairie and Waupun, sharing information that often surprises their attendees, Hayden said.

“Not a lot of students know FFA has an honors band and choir,” Hayden said, “and it performs at the Wisconsin State Fair in August. That’s pretty big for the students who hold an interest in music.”

They tell students about the FFA Agriscience Fair held at the FFA state convention in June -- where students might enter research projects exploring the impact of fertilizers on plants or innovative methods for processing foods -- and they encourage students to enroll in at least one career, technical and education course, because, according to FFA, the students who do so graduate at a 6 percent higher rate than those who don’t.

Hagenow is no stranger to academic success: She was the valedictorian of the Rio Class of 2018, and last year received an excellence scholarship for $10,000 from the Herb Kohl Foundation. She deferred her Kohl scholarship payment to 2019-20 and took off the current academic year to focus on her FFA duties.

“Leadership,” Hagenow said of what she gained in her six years in FFA prior to graduating from high school. “(FFA) is helping students to become effective and successful leaders in whatever career pathway they choose, whether that be directly involved in agriculture or otherwise.”

FFA Week is as much about promoting agriculture, in general, as FFA itself, Hagenow said of her leadership. Wisconsin lost 500 dairy farms in 2017, according to FFA, and in 2018, the total number of milk-cow herds in the state had decreased about 20 percent.

“FFA Week provides the perfect platform to focus on how we all can help in these trying times,” Hagenow said. “Doing something small, like buying a few extra gallons of milk at the local grocery store, or reaching out to FFA members and agricultural educators at the local school asking how you can help, can make all the difference in the world for struggling farmers and their families.”

FFA Week fundraising activities in the area include the Poynette FFA Breakfast on the morning of Feb. 22, at Poynette High School (time to be determined) and the Mauston FFA Pancake Supper from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday.