This year the Alaska FFA association proved their state is not only the biggest in landmass, but the state’s members also have some of the biggest hearts in the nation.
The Alaska FFA Association was named the winner of the 2016 Hunger Heroes Challenge at the National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana. The FFA Hunger Heroes Challenge encouraged students to help donate 3.5 million meals to local communities. Alaska FFA stepped up to that challenge and fearlessly worked to donate to the food security cause … a cause very near and dear to the state’s members.
“Food security is a major concern in our state. Our state’s agriculture provides less than five percent of the $2 billion worth of food consumed in Alaska. We depend on imports to such a degree that if there was a major catastrophe interrupting our food supply, it would be extremely difficult to put food on the table,” said Kevin Fochs, Alaska State FFA Director. “Nearly 106,000 Alaskans – roughly 1 in 7 – struggle with hunger. Twenty percent of Alaska kids live in homes that may not have enough food.”
More than 150 members from the 13 Alaska middle and high school chapters volunteered 33,919 hours, and donated more than 35,000 meals and over 37,000 pounds of food.
“Our members are compassionate, proactive students that really care for their communities. When we explained the Hunger Heroes Challenge to our students — they jumped in both feet first,” said Maia Siegel, Alaska FFA President. “Many of our chapters completed multiple events and worked hard to advocate for their projects. One hundred percent participation speaks volumes about how much our FFA members care for their communities, and how they’re willing to live to serve and work hard for others.”
According to Fochs, several chapters worked locally, raising gardens and growing produce to be distributed to senior citizens and food banks. Others gleaned fields from generous vegetable farmers to provide food. Many chapters did food drives in their communities; some worked with area food banks to help facilities process food and prepare it for distribution. Several chapters put together soup mixes that could be distributed to the needy. One unique project was building community gardens in several areas around the city of Palmer, where residents can come and pick fresh produce as needed.
“Alaskans in general are more aware of the challenges associated with hunger. Availability of fresh and inexpensive food is rare and subsistence living is a way of life in rural villages and often provides 80 percent of their annual diet,” Fochs said. “We value our food and see increasing agriculture in our state as a way to meet this challenge, and one that will have a strong impact on our state’s economy and provide new opportunities for our members.”
With Alaska’s top industries being oil and gas, and tourism and fishing, many Alaska FFA members do not have an agriculture background at all. They join for Career Development Events (CDE’s) such as Natural Resource Management and Maritime Science (two unique areas just for Alaska FFA) as well as job interview and public speaking training.
“Many students join FFA for leadership skills, personal growth, and career-readying opportunities, but many more join for the friendships and close-knit community that FFA provides- our chapters welcome new students with open arms,” Siegel said.
The Hunger Heroes Challenge was not the only award for the Last Frontier state. Alaska FFA was recognized at the National FFA Convention for having the highest membership percentage growth of all the FFA state associations this year, and also for having 100 percent FFA membership in ag programs. Alaska FFA’s membership has increased from 126 members to 282 and at their 2017 State Convention, they hope to charter four more FFA chapters. The young state will celebrate its 40th FFA anniversary this year.
“While we may get asked about showing reindeer (yes, we really do), dog sledding, giant vegetables, and extreme weather — our members are what really make our association great,” Siegel said. “Without our driven, passionate FFA members, we would be nowhere. Our FFA members are the future world-changers and servant-leaders- they’re what make Alaska FFA, Alaska FFA.”