Twenty Pontiac FFA members recently took the opportunity to travel to New Jersey and New York City to learn about an agricultural industry that is a little different than in Illinois.  

“This is the sixth chapter exchange we’ve done,” said Jesse Faber, FFA adviser, who together with Parker Bane leads the Pontiac chapter. “Our students get used to viewing agriculture as fields of corn and soybeans so this has been a great opportunity to see agriculture in different sectors.”  

Over the past several years, Pontiac FFA members have seen a variety of agriculture operations from blueberry fields in Oregon to orange groves in Florida to an alligator farm in Louisiana.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have tremendous hosts for every trip,” Faber said. “When we got back from Oregon, a lot of us would have said there was no way we’re ever going to top that trip.”  

However, Faber said, “I think this one was even better.”  

The trip included tours of the Kube Pak Greenhouses, Whitesbog Cranberry Farms and North Star Veterinarians, a high-tech animal hospital.

“That was one of the nicest hospitals I’ve ever been to in my life, human or animal,” Faber said. “The students saw a CAT scan of a turtle, and while we were touring, they opened a door so they could see a dog in a MRI machine.”  

Other tours included White Birch Farms, a Standardbred horse farm and Bentcreek Game Preserve, which raises pheasants and quail, as well as offering an unique hunting experience. Historical sites also were part of the tour, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the 911 Memorial and Times Square.  

While they toured for five days, the Illinois FFA members were guided by the members of the Allentown Chapter of New Jersey, and they spent some time at their school to learn more about a FFA chapter in a different part of the country.

One of the Pontiac FFA members told me that she enjoyed developing a bond with FFA members who are many miles away from her home.  

“Of all the things we do, Parker and I think this might be the most valuable experience we can provide for our students,” Faber said.

The Pontiac FFA members are selected to participate on the exchange trip through an application process.

“Every student in the agriculture program has the opportunity to apply,” said Faber, of the 197 members of the chapter.

The application includes information on not only the activities of the FFA members, but also what they expect to get out of the trip, why they want to go and how they feel it will impact them as they go forward as a student.  

“All the students that go on the trip also create videos with narration and music of the different parts of the trip to show to classes and post on our website,” Faber said. “Included in the application is a part where students state how they are going to share their experiences for the benefit of others, not just their own benefit.”  

What a wonderful opportunity for these students to gain a new perspective careers and opportunities in the agricultural industry. I can see why a tremendous amount of students applied to travel with the group.