The FFA motto is, “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve,” and is carried out in part through Supervised Ag Experiences, or SAEs.

All students in agricultural programs complete a Foundational SAE. For students who want to build on that experience, Expansion SAEs are available for further study. This gives students hands-on experience within a career path.

To help youth put their SAEs into motion, the N.D. FFA Foundation provides 20-30 grants of $1,000 annually. FFA members may apply for these grants to assist in starting a new SAE or expanding an existing SAE.

Every story about an FFA member receiving a grant is exciting.

Locally grown/locally sold

For N.D. FFA State Secretary Christina Bingham, SAE grants helped her build raised strawberry beds and develop a successful business growing and selling rhubarb. She’s sold over 1,000 pounds of rhubarb in recent years from her home in rural north central North Dakota.

“It’s a great hands-on learning experience because you get to learn the business side of fruit production and create a financial plan,” Bingham said.

Using research from NDSU Extension, she built four raised garden beds with 20 strawberry plants per bed. She constructed a netting system to go over the gardens protecting the plants from birds and animals.

Work involved pruning the 80 strawberry plants, establishing strong roots, harvesting, selling and winterizing the beds. After two years of production, the winter of 2018-19 was just too difficult and the strawberry plants died. Bingham continues to look at other types of vegetables or fruit she can grow in the raised beds and sell.

Then, she received 14 rhubarb plants from her mom, and Bingham successfully propagated another 36 plants. Through an additional SAE grant, she purchased a freezer for rhubarb storage, allowing her to expand on the existing raised bed SAE project.

Bingham was recognized for her work/projects as a national top four finalist in the Fruit Production Proficiency Award Program at the 2019 National FFA Convention.

None of this would have possible, she said, without the grants.

“Just having that financial assistance was helpful,” she said.

As a college freshman at University of Mary, Bingham intends to earn a bachelor’s in nursing. Understanding local food production will go a long way toward a successful career in nursing.

“There was a lot of interpersonal skills I learned, because I connected with a lot of (rhubarb/strawberry) customers within a very large radius of where I live,” she said. “That will definitely help with patient care.”

Growing leaders with the land

Making these grants possible is a land trust given to the N.D. FFA Foundation. The late Fridtjov Bakk (1902-1971), an immigrant farmer in eastern North Dakota, provided for this land trust, which was transferred to the Foundation in 2006.

Since that time, the land trust has provided over $300,000 for Beginning SAE grants, Expansion SAE grants, college scholarships, N.D. Farm Business Management young farmer scholarships and special projects.

“N.D. FFA would not be able to offer the same experiences and opportunities to our members if it weren’t for the generosity and forward thinking of Mr. Bakk,” said Tommy Winders, N.D. FFA Foundation. “With that being said, we would not be able to continue to grow if it weren’t for all of our current supporters and friends of N.D. FFA.”

New sponsors and donors are always needed as FFA offers new programming and opportunities for youth, he said.

“We rely on our supporters very much, and they have been incredible keeping this organization going. I can’t state enough just how appreciative we are of our friends that continue to make N.D. FFA so strong,” Winders emphasized.

North Dakota’s 6,300 student members may apply for SAE grants, which are first submitted to National FFA. The grant applications are then submitted to the N.D. FFA Foundation, and an additional 20-30 youth receive $1,000 grants.

FFA’ers are not limited to only one beginning grant, as they can apply in subsequent years for expansion grants.

Pursuit of excellence

The SAE grant program helped N.D. FFA State Sentinel Madeliene Nichols, 18, enter the purebred Red Angus business.

A fifth generation cattle producer, Nichols was the first in her family to build a registered herd.

She took out a loan to purchase a few registered heifers. With a $1,000 SAE grant from N.D. FFA Foundation, she attended AI school as a 16-year-old, and purchased a semen tank. Her heifers successfully settled, and today she has a dozen head in her own herd.

She’s shown heifers in 4-H, and some of her responsibilities with her heifers include vaccinations, synchronization, AI’ing and branding. She spends her summers making hay for the Nichols’ operation, as well as to sell in the Carrington-region. Calving begins in April and continues through May.

“My SAE is still going,” Nichols said. “I still have cattle at home and I still plan to keep expanding and making hay, as well as raising registered and commercial cattle.”

Nichols’ long-term plans include earning her bachelor’s in both animal science and agri-business. Then she plans to pursue a master’s degree in animal science-ruminant nutrition.

She hopes to return home and start her own ag nutrition company for livestock – both private feeding and selling rations and shipping them out to producers and raising cattle on the side.

Her most important lessons in raising cattle, in FFA and through her SAE, involve never giving up.

“My sophomore year in high school, my dad got really sick and he didn’t know if he was going to have to sell some of the cattle or not,” Nichols said. “I had to take a big step up at home, and I just learned that you have to work through it. Eventually you’ll make it through and get to where you want to be.”

When young people can honestly make statements like these through their experiences, N.D. FFA supporters know they’ve invested wisely.

RDO Equipment sponsors 167 blue jackets

To celebrate 50 years of women in FFA, RDO Equipment Co. donated all of the FFA Blue Jackets given to female members of the N.D. FFA. The jackets, which are $74 each, were given to 167 women who applied to receive the blue jackets.

An additional 83 blue jackets were given to men by many loyal supporters across the state and country.

“We are passionate about our Blue Jackets Bright Futures program, and love to see so many members get a jacket with their name on it that they can proudly wear when competing throughout their FFA career,” Winders said. “We are so appreciative of RDO and all of our supporters for continuing to make this program possible.”

Donation opportunities

Whether it’s sponsoring a specific FFA event, purchasing blue jackets for youth, or funding the SAE grant program, donors always have the opportunity to make an impact.

Recently, 26 N.D. FFA Foundation donors pledged to match $19,750 on Giving Hearts Day, Feb. 13, 2020. This 24-hour-event raises millions of dollars for non-profit organizations in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Co-hosted by Dakota Medical Foundation, Impact Foundation and the Alex Stern Family Foundation, Giving Hearts Day requires participating groups to obtain at least $4,000 for matching grants in order to participate.

Throughout the year, Tommy Winders is always available to help supporters make the most of their gifts to the N.D. FFA Foundation. He can be reached at twinders@ndffa.org or by calling 701-532-2074. To keep up with all N.D. FFA Foundation news, visit ndffafoundation.com.

To learn more about the FFA SAE program, visit saeforall.org.