Past and Present Cambridge FFA Members Work Together
Do whatever it takes to get the job done.
That’s a mantra for many American farmers, especially members of the FFA organization. The words of the FFA Creed are more than spoken. The Creed is lived.
“We don’t want there to ever be an FFA member who doesn’t attend an event, no matter what it is, or can’t experience an animal project if they so desire,” says Karen Stenjem of Cambridge, Wisconsin, who is serving her 10th year as president of the Cambridge FFA Alumni. “We want FFA members to know there are so many careers directly related to agriculture. We want them to meet people from all over the country and make connections that could make a difference in the future. Most of all, we want students to feel encouraged and empowered.”
Involvement in the Cambridge FFA and its alumni chapter have become a tradition in the Stenjem family. Karen’s husband, Dale, was an active FFA member in high school. He served as chapter vice president in 1971-72 and as chapter president in 1972-73. He started attending Cambridge FFA Alumni meetings regularly in the late 1990s when their oldest son, Cory, was active in the FFA and participated in activities at the school farm.
The school’s farm is one unique learning opportunity offered to students in the Cambridge School District. When Cory was in FFA, the school farm was used to raise turkeys that were then processed and donated to the local food pantry. Known as the Severson Learning Center, today the farm houses livestock projects for FFA members who don’t have their own facilities. It also includes two community gardens that provide vegetables for the local food pantry.
This handsome farmstead in southeastern Wisconsin features a white farmhouse and red barn surrounded by about 54 acres of arable fields that are farmed by the Cambridge FFA Alumni. About 20 acres of land is in four woodlots. A sugarbush of 75 Sugar Maples has been planted in one woodlot. A large pond with year-round water lies between two of the woodlots. A wet landscape is nestled within the L of the southern-most woodlot. In addition, there is a small apple orchard plus classroom facilities.
In addition to planting and harvesting the crops at the Severson Learning Center, the FFA Alumni hold several fundraisers. Thirty-two tables of players participated Feb. 10 in annual Euchre Card Party and Auction. Local businesses strongly support this event. They donated auction items that raised $3,000 this year.
The alumni chapter’s other major fundraiser is a pancake breakfast. More than 850 people were served in November during the 39th annual pancake breakfast. Student FFA members work hard to “serve the community” at this event, and Karen Stenjem says a breakfast of this size wouldn’t be possible without the FFA members’ help.
Proceeds from fundraisers and profits from the school farm are used to support local students. The alumni chapter contributes $35 toward each FFA members’ jacket, so each student must pay the remainder to have “a little skin in the game.” The alumni also cover expenses for student leadership opportunities including Washington Leadership Conference, state and national FFA conventions, fire conference, as well as the annual FFA officer trip. The Cambridge FFA Alumni Chapter funds scholarships for graduating seniors; Meat Animal Sale Project Loans for one county and one district fair; and an internship through the school district at Severson Learning Center
FFA Alumni also mentor FFA students. Every year since 2007 students have shown the Stenjem’s dairy cattle. Nine different FFA members have shown, and none of them had lived on a farm nor worked with dairy cattle prior to engaging in a Dairy SAE (supervised agricultural experience) project.
“We were a little leery about opening that door, but it has been an outstanding experience,” says Karen, who has worked in public schools for more than 40 years. “I love encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and explore things they don’t know anything about. I love supporting them in any way that I can. I like when they are comfortable talking with me and bouncing ideas they may have. Students need to receive positive feedback from adults and peers. I want to be someone students can rely on when they need someone.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The Stenjem’s oldest son, Cory and his family, live on the family’s dairy farm. He helps FFA members with their dairy projects, plus two of his three children are old enough to show dairy through 4-H. Their youngest son, Tyler, also has a house on the dairy farm. While he helps some with the FFA dairy, his focus is serving as swine project leader.
“I really enjoyed showing pigs when I was in FFA, and there was a lot of interest from kids who wanted to show. Most of the kids who were interested had never cared for an animal besides a house pet. They didn’t know how much actually went into raising a show pig, so it’s been a really good learning experience,” says Tyler Stenjem, whose FFA swine project sparked him to start his own swine genetics business with a friend. They bred, owned and raised show pigs. Tyler uses his experiences and the connections he’s made statewide to help FFA students select high quality show stock pigs and teaches them how to get their projects ready for the fair.
Mentoring opportunities, like those provided by the Stenjems, ensure that students have the tools and support they need to succeed. We’re honored they shared their story with us during National FFA Week. We appreciate that Karen has shared a favorite recipe featuring real butter and cheese. (With quality ingredients like this, how can this dish be anything but delicious!)
“This mac and cheese recipe is often requested for FFA banquets and FFA members’ graduations,” says Karen. “My daughter and I can see why. We made it last weekend and it’s creamy and delicious.”
Go ahead and “make the most” of a snow day with this hearty Mac & Cheese recipe!
Slow Cooked Mac-N-Cheese
1 (16 oz) package of elbow macaroni
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 (12 oz) can of evaporated milk
1 (13/4 oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
1 c. milk
4 c (16 oz) shredded cheddar cheese
- Cook macaroni according to package directions; then drain macaroni.
- Place macaroni in a 5-quart slow cooker; add butter.
- In a bowl, combine eggs, evaporated milk, soup, milk and 3 cups cheese. Pour over macaroni mixture; stir to combine.
- Cover and cook for 4 hours. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese if desired. NOTE: If you add the cheese on top, cook 15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.
Yield: 10 servings
COOK’S TIP: I multiply by 4 to fill a Nesco roaster for FFA events.