TRACY - Like others in southwest Minnesota, agriculture and FFA programs at Tracy Area High School have expanded in the past two decades, and with it, opportunities for students have grown.
Under the direction of Paul Skoglund and John Lanoue, FFA numbers at TAHS have surpassed 120 students.
"When I came to Tracy in the late '80s, we had about 85 kids and there were less activities," Skoglund said. "It's definitely grown. For a school this size, there are a lot of activities to participate in."
Lanoue joined the ag staff six years ago.
"Between Paul and I, we probably see about 200 kids a day," Lanoue said. "About 125 of them are in FFA."
Senior Anna Johnson has been in FFA for four years.
"I like the opportunity that FFA gives and also meeting new people," Johnson said. "A lot of my friends are in FFA from other towns. I'm a lot less shy because of it."
In addition to developing leadership skills while participating in various activities, Johnson, who said she especially enjoys the Snow Dance, is considering a future in agriculture.
"I'm planning to pursue ag business in college," Johnson said. "I grew up on a farm and my dad and sister were in FFA. I discovered that I liked it and there was lots of potential. There are a lot of ag jobs."
Along with co-sponsor MINNWEST Bank, the Tracy FFA chapter held a Halloween Carnival last Thursday.
"Part of what we do is a community service," Skoglund said of FFA activities. "We don't make any money on the carnival."
Last year, about 500 kids showed up in festive costumes. The event was well-attended again this year.
"The bank organizes it and we supply most of the workers," Skoglund said. "It's a fun activity that we can involve a lot of kids in. The kids get to put on the blue jackets and be visible to the community."
More than 50 FFA members helped out at the event, which featured games, a petting zoo and a hayride.
"It was fun," said sixth-grader Alecia Wallenstein, who was dressed up as ketchup, while her friend Dakota Rolling portrayed mustard. "My favorite part was the football throw."
The cake walk, run by Dustin Demuth and Andres Thul, was extremely popular. "It's been going good," Demuth said. "We've had a lot of little kids here. It's nice to see everybody come out."
Fifth-grader Dereck Ellingson was also having a good time.
"It's fun," he said. "My favorite part was the candy."
The petting zoo was also a hit, with "Mufasa" the miniature horse, "Marissa" and "Sheridan" the fainting goats, "Babe" the kitten, "Delilah" the puppy, two chinchillas and three four-week-old piglets.
Brandon Schroeder, who is part of the ag mechanics team for FFA, also brought in his dog named "Jewel."
"She's a red border collie," Schroeder said. "I like being able to do all the different activities in FFA."
With a number of opportunities and activities available throughout the year, FFA students are busy people.
"It's a busy time of year," Lanoue said. "Right after we finished the corn drive, the next day, four contest teams (soils, horse, forestry and poultry) qualified for state. The next week, we went to nationals."
Lanoue said the 2011 corn drive yielded 4,000 bushels, equating into approximately $24,000, which will be donated in full to Camp Courage.
"It's the best we've done since I've been here," Lanoue said. "We raised the second-highest amount in the state. We have very generous farmers in this area."
More than 50 FFA kids, including 17 drivers with 17 wagons, worked for five hours, collecting corn from farms within the school district.
"Our district covers about 250,000 acres," Lanoue said. "The kids ask the farmers to donate. They turn on the auger and we just catch the corn and bring it to the elevator."
More than 20 Tracy FFA members boarded a charter bus with Marshall students recently for a trip to nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana.
"It was a lot bus riding, but it was fun," freshman Jennifer LaVoy said. "We stopped by the 'American Pickers' shop. There were off for the week, but we got to see their shop. It was really cool."
The students also visited the Indy 500 Motor Speedway, Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger factory and the Kentucky Derby along the way.
"I like going to the competitions and hanging out in the ag shop the best," LaVoy said.