Clear Lake FFA Gets Reinstated

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Elisa Russ served as the Iowa FFA Officer for the first time in 2015-2016.
Back row (left to right): Brandon Hanson (North Central State Vice President), Hunter Hamilton (Southeast State Vice President), Mikayla Dolch (Southwest State Vice President), Elisa Russ (Northeast State Vice President), Hailey Burley (Northwest State Vice President)
Front row (left to right): Michael Tupper (State President), Kayla Kaalberg (State Secretary), Amanda Anderson (State Reporter), Erica Baier (South Central State Vice President)

A blue corduroy jacket has been the ticket to adventure for Elisa Russ, a graduate of New Hampton High School in Northeast Iowa. This jacket has taken her across the United States and to South Africa. She also worked for two summers as staff for the National FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference (WLC) in Washington, D.C., before she graduated from Iowa State University. She accepted a job in 2019 as agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor in Clear Lake.

“FFA has played a huge role in my life, and through my involvement with the FFA, I have met some of the most important people in my life,” says Ms. Russ, who served on the Iowa FFA state officer team for two years. She was elected to serve as 2016-2017 State President, 2015-2016 Northeast State Vice President, and 2013-2014 Northeast District Secretary.

While in high school, Ms. Russ was involved in band, choir, speech, 4-H, sports manager, and church youth group. She  earned her greenhand, chapter, Iowa FFA and American FFA degrees. Her positive experience in FFA, combined with her dad’s experience as an agricultural instructor, are the main reasons she decided to major in Agriculture and Life Science Education at Iowa State University.

“With both of my parents and my older sister being teachers, I saw the impact they were making. I really wanted to do that, too,” adds Ms. Russ. “What set me on the path of being an ag teacher and FFA advisor was watching so many people in my life be changed by their involvement in ag education. When a student really jumps into their ag classes and is active in FFA, it can be a life-changing experience. I wanted to help create that experience for students.”

The Clear Lake FFA Chapter existed until the mid-1960s and then re-chartered in the fall of 2019. The chapter has 78 members. One reason there is so much interest in joining the Clear Lake FFA is that students are interested in developing leadership skills, and Russ says they feel welcomed into the Clear Lake FFA program.

“Some of my proudest moments of my first year of teaching is when students tell me they look forward to being in the ag room every day. I love hearing that they’re excited to come to school now, and that they have found a spot where they belong. I think that atmosphere of acceptance and inclusivity has been crucial in growing our program, regardless of students’ background in ag.”


Clear Lake FFA members, who were interested in attending the National FFA Convention, had to apply. The application focused on their involvement in FFA and how they plan to use their experiences at national convention when they return home.
Those who were selected toured Fair Oaks Dairy on their way to national convention in Indianapolis. As part of the convention, they also took a Career Development Events tour that showed students what it looks like to compete in an FFA competition. They watched students competing in Agronomy, Floriculture, and Poultry Judging.
From left to right: Ms. Elisa Russ, Olivia Brcka, Julia Merfeld, Jessica Theobald, Maycee Wilkie, Darby Dodd, and Emma Pingel

Fewer than 25 percent of the Clear Lake FFA members have a rural/production ag background.

“I love getting students involved who might never have thought about a career in agriculture,” says Russ. “Because I don’t have a production ag background myself, it allows me to really connect with that demographic of students and make them feel included in the program.”

Members of the Clear Lake FFA Chapter have a variety of Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects underway including diversified crop production, landscaping, soil science, beef operations, veterinary science, food production and processing, and equine science.

Animal science is one of Russ’ favorite classes to teach because students are so engaged. If they were raised around livestock, students enjoy learning more. If they haven’t been raised around livestock, they’re intrigued by animal science. She also really enjoys teaching horticulture and floriculture as those were focus areas for her SAE projects.

“We’re in the beginning phases of getting a greenhouse built for the ag ed program, which we hope to have completed by the start of the 2020-2021 school year,” says Russ, who adds that additional funding is needed to complete the project. “My hope is this greenhouse will have some space set aside to grow vegetables that can be implemented either in school lunches or our Family and Consumer Sciences program.”

There is always room for a chapter to grow, but the Clear Lake FFA certainly has had a productive first year. Members have participated in the Greenhand Fire-Up Leadership Conference, National FFA Convention and Expo, Ignite and Amplify Leadership Conferences, Legislative Symposium, and leadership development events. Students competed in job interview, public speaking, ag sales, ag broadcasting, creed speaking and the Greenhand Quiz.

At the chapter/local level, the Clear Lake FFA has held monthly meetings, had a Christmas Meal Box service project where we partnered with Iowa Select Farms and provided our local food bank with 24 holiday meal boxes that included a pork roast and all the fixings. We also celebrated National FFA Week throughout the high school and were gearing up for our state convention, which has been postponed until a later date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


You’ll find blog copy that talks about their community service project. Please insert this photo near that copy and identify the students in this photo.
From left to right: Emma Pingel, Maycee Wilkie, Julia Merfeld, Allexa Whitehouse, Riley Cooney

“Clear Lake Ag Ed and FFA would like to thank our community for the unbelievable amount of support we have received. We could not have had the success during our first year without their support. Despite the absence of ag education and FFA in Clear Lake for some time now, there are a lot of community members who have a history in the FFA. Those people know that FFA has really changed and evolved to include all students who want to know more about agriculture. The FFA is much more than ‘future farmers.’ However, the traditions and values of hard work and community service are still very much present in our organization. We’re just getting started here in Clear Lake, so keep your eyes out for a lot more coming out of this program!”

In celebration of her first year as an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor, Ms. Russ is sharing with us one of her favorite recipes. She says this recipe reminds her of warm summer days spent baking with her mom.

“My mom only made these bars a few times each year, so it was always a special treat,” says Ms. Russ. “I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!”

Brownie Treats


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Topping Ingredients

  • 2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1, six-ounce package of chocolate chips
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies


  1. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar.
  2. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir in flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; then add to egg mixture.
  4. Grease a 9x13 pan and spread the mixture evenly in the pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.


  1. Sprinkle marshmallows on top; bake for three minutes.
  2. Remove from oven and let cool.
  3. Combine chocolate chips and peanut butter. Heat until melted.
  4. Stir in Rice Krispies and spread over marshmallows.
  5. Let cool, and then serve.