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FFA’ers planning visit ‘down under’

By Staff | Feb 18, 2013

THESE ARE FOUR of the seven Lake Mills FFA members who will be traveling to New Zealand and Australia in June. From left are eighth-grader Rachel Holst, freshman Abbie Chose, sophomore Katie Fell, freshman Alec Anderson and ag instructor Darcie Gayken.

LAKE MILLS – What started as an offhand comment to a question posed by ag technology instructor Darcie Gayken to her freshman class of FFA students three years ago is about to become reality next June.

Gayken asked her class where they should take a trip, and one of the class members said jokingly they should go to Australia.

Those freshmen are now seniors and the Lake Mills FFA chapter has spent the last three years raising money for its 13-day trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Seven chapter members are set to make the journey – two seniors, one junior, one sophomore, two freshmen, and an eighth-grader. They have their passports and visas arranged and are raising additional needed cash. Each traveler needed to raise a total of $4,500 per person.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Gayken.

Among the places the FFA will be seeing will be the Agrodome in Rotorua, New Zealand, the Great Barrier Reef, and sites around Sydney, Australia.

A Facebook page will be available for anyone interested in following the FFA members’ adventures.

Upon returning, they plan to hold a community wide meeting to tell of what they saw.

The Lake Mills FFA chapter recently participated in the Albert Lea Barrow Show, held Feb. 8, where they received the top honor of Premier Chapter and Exhibit Award for their skills in showing and judging.

To raise money, the FFA chapter built a grill for cooking at various events and to sell food. The grill is on wheels and can be towed. There is about 20 square feet of grilling surface available.

Locally, the grill has been used to cook and sell food at the Winnebago County Fair, Borderfest in nearby Emmons, Lake Mills Jubilee and national night out, plus it was rented to the Albert Lea FFA to cook and serve food at the county fair in Albert Lea, Minn.

The FFA members cook beef and pork, making ka-bobs, and grilling sweet corn.

Jake’s Sweet Corn, an area sweet corn grower, donated 40 dozen ears for grilling at the Winnebago County Fair.

“We got pretty good at grilling corn,” Gayken said.

They prepared the corn for grilling by soaking it in a salt water bath a day before cooking and grilled it with the husk on. The repeat sales told them they were on to something.

The FFA members learned more than just grilling skills because they had to organize ahead of time and always be aware of sanitation during cooking. When an event was done, they learned about clean up.

They held a corn drive to raise money by pulling a wagon into a field during harvest and a farmer would load the wagon with corn or soybeans he was willing to donate. In appreciation the chapter members would bring refreshments to the field.

Some farmers donated semi loads of grain and hauled it to the elevator telling the elevator that load was for the FFA.

Members held a silent auction during basketball games by asking local merchants to donate merchandise for the auction. Some FFA members auctioned themselves for work to anyone who would hire them.

Freshman Alec Anderson said he was surprised by the amount of community support for their trip.

The Lake Mills chapter is participating in the national FFA program of selling fresh fruit each winter. It is separating the money with one fund for the trip and another for other chapter uses.

The chapter members’ fruit sales are averaging around $700 sales per member with a half dozen members selling more than $1,000, three selling more than $2,000, and one member with sales of over $3,000.

Those chapter members making the trip to Australia and New Zealand are around 75 percent of the way towards reaching their goal. A few members are within a few hundred dollars of completing their fundraising.

The Lake Mills FFA has been making summer trips annually, said Gayken. Members have been camping in Wyoming, along the Mississippi River and in northern Minnesota.

While the trips include fun activities such as canoeing, trout fishing, and horseback riding, there is an instructional side as members plan and cook the meals.

This is Gayken’s sixth year teaching at Lake Mills. A native of Glenville, Minn., just across the border from Lake Mills, she was active in FFA during her high school years in Albert Lea.

Gayken said her ag instructor, a Lake Mills native, that made her decide to be an ag instructor herself. She graduated in ag education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

This will be her second trip Australia. Gayken lived in Australia for seven months after her college education, working in a hog confinement in Queensland.

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