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‘Push’ works well for state FFA leader‘Push’ works well for state FFA leader

Lavyne Rada runs with FFA experience after begrudgingly being enrolled in her first ag class.

Kevin Schulz

August 30, 2023

4 Min Read
Close-up of FFA patch on blue corduroy jacket
LEADING THE BLUE: Lavyne Rada removed the “interim” from her title when she was named the executive director of the Minnesota FFA Association earlier this year. She had served as interim executive director since August of 2022.Courtesy of National FFA Organization

It’s amazing how a little push in high school can alter a person’s career path.

“I did not voluntarily go to my first agriculture class,” Lavyne Rada recalls. “My parents and principal put me in there, much to my chagrin.” Rada grew up the daughter of dairy farmers, and she knew that was not the future for her.

The year she was “placed” in her first agriculture class coincided with the time Milbank, S.D., High School was building a greenhouse, and “being able to work in horticulture really opened my eyes to the variety in agriculture. … I found a lot of other passions once I stopped looking at cows being milked three times a day.”

Once that passion was planted, Rada went on to become a South Dakota state FFA officer during her freshman year at the South Dakota State University. Also during her time at SDSU, she served as national president of the Professional Agriculture Students organization 2004-06, which Rada says is a collegiate organization with components similar to FFA.

After graduating from SDSU, she taught high school agriculture at Beresford, S.D., then worked for a couple of years at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn., before coming back to the high school teaching ranks at Hutchinson, Minn., where she spent eight years.

Since then, she has been with the Minnesota FFA Association, culminating with her being named executive director this summer. She had been interim executive director since August 2022.

Benefit of many hats

“I think the biggest benefit that I bring is that I’ve worked in a lot of positions and volunteered at a lot of positions that give me the perspective,” she says. “I was a student. I was a college student. I worked at a technical college for a while. And I was a high school agriculture teacher.”

Wearing those various hats at different levels of ag education, Rada believes gives her the proper insight into the needs of the FFA organization.

“I often find myself saying, ‘What would make it easier for me as a teacher? How can I communicate this to our teachers? How can I promote this so our students will think it’s interesting?’” she asks. “So, I think the fact that I’ve been in those shoes, I’m able to take a step back and really think if I was back in those shoes, how can I best present the information and then move forward that way — and also think about some of the frustrations that I had as a student and teacher and try to avoid some of those.”

Over the years, Rada has worked with a number of people — from high school advisers to college professors to fellow teachers — but she says in work, she models her style most after what she learned from Gerri Eide, who was executive secretary of the South Dakota FFA Association.

“She held high standards, high expectations, but then supported us to reach those,” Rada says, echoing the same impact of Jerry Janisch, her FFA advisor at Milbank High School, who also had “very high expectations; he didn’t do anything halfway.”

Rada is not averse to reaching out to those around her — veteran educators and leaders as well as young teachers.

“There’re people who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, and I don’t have to make all the decisions myself. I can reach out to those people and get that advice, and I think that especially over the last year, while we’ve been in transition, I found myself really reaching out to those local leaders and getting their perspective and in hearing what they’re saying,” she says. “It was really good to have people who have been around longer than I had, but then also to be able to reach out to young teachers and say, ‘OK, what’s not making sense? How can I support you with what’s not being clearly communicated?’”

Growing FFA

What can be clearly communicated is the strength that Rada sees in Minnesota FFA, and some of that is being brought on by National FFA announcing the goal to have 100% of agriculture education students as FFA members by the organization’s 100th anniversary five years from now.

For Minnesota, that means the current 15,000 active FFA members, which has grown by 6,000 in the last three years, will jump to more than 40,000 FFA members when going to the 100% model. “I think the biggest thing you’ll see from me is trying to figure out what does Minnesota FFA with 40,000 students even look like?” she says. “I don’t think that will mean 40,000 students at state convention, because I don’t think that’s what’s best.”

Instead, she foresees providing more of an authentic experience for students at the local level. “Our local communities are where the magic happens,” she says. “That’s where the students find careers that they didn’t know existed in their agriculture classes, and they find their voice in doing leadership events.”

Rada speaks from experience of agriculture knowledge that can be gained from a high school agriculture class — even one that she was pushed into.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

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