Steve Olson’s FFA journey
By LAURA CARLSON
STORY CITY – One out of every five Iowans owes their job to agriculture, while 21 percent of all jobs in Iowa involve agriculture and ag-related companies, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
With agriculture responsible for one out of every three dollars in Iowa’s economy, an education in agriculture looks even more valuable to high-schoolers.
Through FFA, students all across Iowa learn about bookkeeping, fixing tractor engines, veterinary practices, propagating geraniums in a greenhouse and managing the business, among other skills.
Specialized instructors, known as ag teachers, are responsible for educating Iowa’s young minds on agriculture.
One of those instructors is Steve Olson.
A Story City resident, Olson grew up on a farm between Randall and Story City in Story County. His family raised cattle, hogs, chickens, and grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa.
“I graduated from South Hamilton Community Schools and attended Waldorf Junior College for two years,” Olson said. “I transferred to Iowa State University where I received a bachelor of sciences degree in ag business and a bachelor of sciences degree in ag education.”
After graduating, Olson taught at the Garner Hayfield School District before returning to South Hamilton schools to, where he taught for 36 years.
He retired last June.
In addition to teaching, Olson also worked as a supervisor for the ag mechanics show at the Iowa State Fair for 25 years.
“I’m still getting used to retirement,” he said.
Over 40 years of teaching agricultural education to Iowa’s youth, Olson said he has seen it evolve in many ways over the years.
The biggest change, he said, has been the number of women involved in FFA on all levels.
“My first teaching job, I think I had two or three girls involved in programming,” Olson said. “Now, it is almost equal numbers of males and females participating in FFA programs.”
That change impacts the educators themselves as well.
“There were two or three female ag teachers in the state 35 years ago,” he said. “I would say it is now close to 50 percent of the state’s ag teachers are female.”
For Olson, FFA involvement was always a family affair. Both of his children participated in it when they were in school.
“Both served as presidents of their local chapter, led activities and organized groups for presentations and attended national conventions,” he said.
Olson highlighted just a few experiences of his son, Tyler, and daughter, Jenny.
“They conducted livestock enterprises where they cared for the livestock, groomed and exhibited the animals, and kept detailed records,” Olson said. “Participation in leadership contests, the World Food Prize and other activities gave them many valuable life skills no matter what their career choices.”
Neither of Olson’s children ended up going into the ag industry; Tyler is in his first year as a resident doctor at Iowa Lutheran Hospitals, while Jenny is a preschool teacher in Carlisle.
But regardless of the career path, Olson said all of his students were happy they were in FFA.
“I’ve never had a student tell me years later that they wished they had not been involved in FFA,” he said, “but I’ve had many, many students tell me later that they wish they had participated in the opportunities FFA offers.”
While not every ag teacher in Iowa received their degree from Iowa State University – the only in-state college where one can earn a degree to teach agriculture education in Iowa – Olson said he believes the future of FFA is bright.
“The future of FFA in Iowa schools is very good. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University is at an all-time high student enrollment,” he said. “As the world population grows by leaps and bounds, future agriculture students must solve the problem of food supply. Researchers, food technologists, farmers and a host of other ag-related careers are needed to meet this global challenge.”
Olson added there are a growing number of jobs and careers in the ag field.
“FFA was one time thought of as only training farmers, but has changed to preparing young adults for a career in ag-related fields and preparing kids for a wider range of careers with instruction in leadership, team building, problem solving and career development skills,” he said. “Many of my graduates continue their education in ag business, agronomy, animal science, veterinary science and marketing.”
In fact, according to ISU’s Agricultural Education and Studies program, there are many teaching opportunities available due to a shortage of ag and life science teachers nationwide.
It’s not uncommon for Olson’s former students to call him for advice on ag-related careers, topics and discussions.
“Since I retired last summer, I miss working with the kids and the family of ag teachers,” he said. “I have always told my students and my own kids to find a career that they enjoy. Don’t choose one because of the money or prestige, but choose one that they enjoy doing every day. If they do that, they will not have to work.”
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