FFA members lured in by leadership, scholarship potentialWORTHINGTON — Carolyn Lovan, Alex Tang and Desalegn Zemenfes are among some of the newest recruits to the Worthington FFA Chapter and, while they certainly may not fit the stereotype of a “white farm kid,” they have all found their niche in a program that, decades ago, shifted away from talk of just sows, cows and plows.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Carolyn Lovan, Alex Tang and Desalegn Zemenfes are among some of the newest recruits to the Worthington FFA Chapter and, while they certainly may not fit the stereotype of a “white farm kid,” they have all found their niche in a program that, decades ago, shifted away from talk of just sows, cows and plows.
Their reasons for joining the FFA are as varied as their backgrounds. Lovan, a first-generation American whose family hails from Laos, was hooked by the social aspect of the FFA when she was required to take an agriculture class in the eighth grade.
Tang was also reeled in as an eighth- grader, but he was most intrigued by the scholarship opportunities offered through the FFA. Another first-generation American, Tang’s parents moved to Worthington from southern China.
And then there’s Zemenfes who, as an eighth-grader, was excited about the opportunity to travel with the FFA. Though only a high school freshman, he’s likely experienced more than most kids his age after moving to America a couple of years ago with his younger sister from Ethiopia, in northeast Africa. Their dad had saved the money to bring them to Worthington, and they continue to save for the day their mother can join them here.
In his first few months in the FFA, Zemenfes has already realized one of his goals to see America — he, Lovan and Tang were among a group of WHS FFA members who attended the National FFA Convention last November in Indianapolis, Ind.
“Since I came from my country to here, I’ve never been out of the state,” said Zemenfes. The road trip took the group through Illinois, Indiana and into Kentucky, and the visit to the National FFA Convention opened the students’ eyes to a world connected through agriculture.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned in ag, it’s that everything we have today is somehow influenced by agriculture,” said Tang. “Even man-made objects like synthetic fiber has to come somewhere from nature.
“I believe that agriculture impacts us in many ways, and most of them we don’t even know about,” he added. “In essence, agriculture is pretty important to us.”
A freshman in the FFA, Tang was involved on the soils CDE (Career Development Event) team that was just shy of earning a trip to compete at the Minnesota FFA Convention this spring. He’s hoping to give it another try this spring by competing on the sales team.
“I’m not sure about that, but I’m thinking it would be something very new and an unknown space for me to go in to,” Tang said.
He plans to compete on the soils team again in the fall, and said it was a lot of fun.
“It’s not like you stare at dirt and say it’s this or that — you actually feel it,” he said. “You determine how good of a quality the soil is for development, and also determine what types of nutrients you would have to add to it if you were going to grow crops.”
Zemenfes, also a freshman, competed on the soils team last fall as well. Since then, he’s earned a trip to state on the Best Informed Greenhand (BIG) team, which requires members to study and be quizzed on the history and general knowledge of the FFA.
Lovan is in her sophomore year in high school, and in her second year in the FFA. As a freshman, she competed on the BIG team, and as a sophomore, she’s looking forward to competing on the floriculture CDE team in April.
“I really love flowers, and I thought it would be a great way to help me in my career,” said Lovan, who is considering a future as a landscape architect or doing something that allows her to work with flowers and plants.
While all three of the teens praise the FFA and the opportunities it offers, they have had little success in getting some of their peers to join them.
“Last year, I think I was the only diverse person in the FFA,” said Lovan.
Usually, when she tells people she’s in the FFA, they ask her why.
“It’s a great opportunity,” is her answer. “I just think the FFA is not just for white farmers — I think it’s for anyone who wants to be successful. Pursuing an ag job or not, it’s a great opportunity to learn things.”
“I would imagine that originally all three of us probably thought that agriculture was for farmers only and that it was probably only for Caucasian people,” added Tang. “But, when you think about it, there is nothing that can hold you back from actually getting (involved) if you wanted to.”
Attending the National FFA Convention last fall, the trio was inspired to soak up all they can in the FFA, whether it’s boosting their leadership and social skills or learning new things.
“The theme of the national convention was Infinite Potential,” said Tang. “When I heard that phrase, I thought it was quite cliché — it sounded kind of cheesy. Somehow, that phrase did influence me. I’m more brave, more courageous. Going to the National Convention reinforced my idea that you don’t have to try to be someone else — you can just be yourself.”
Lovan said the FFA has also helped her lose her shyness.
“I can stand up in a crowd and do public speaking,” she said. “I learned parliamentary procedure, and that really taught me a lot about how things work in real meetings.”
“Even if a person doesn’t want to join (FFA), they should at least try it,” added Tang. “Once you try it, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something different about yourself.”
“Do not think differently about FFA people,” Zemenfes said. “See what it looks like — how it is.”
For now, Lovan, Tang and Zemenfes keep busy in the FFA by taking part in CDE teams and volunteering to help with chapter activities. In the future, however, at least two of them have aspirations to be an FFA chapter officer.
Lovan wants to be the vice-president some day, while Zemenfes has his eyes set on treasurer (he wants to pursue a career as an accountant after high school). Tang said the idea is appealing, but he has at least another year before he is eligible to run for an office.
Once their finished with high school and leave the FFA behind, all three dream of returning to the countries their families came from. Lovan has not yet been to Laos, but she’s hoping to make a trip after college to see how much her parents and grandparents struggled to get to America.
Zemenfes is planning a trip back to Ethiopia after high school graduation, with hopes of bringing his mother back with him. One day, after he retires, his goal is to return to Ethiopia to live.
As for Tang, he’s visited China twice and has aspirations to return there to live as a permanent resident one day.
“Over there, it’s very different, but it’s also very familiar because they look more like me,” he said.
Tang’s career goal at this time is to pursue something in the medical field.
“I’ve changed my mind twice in the last three weeks,” he said, adding that he’s now considering work in oncology.