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Future Farmers of America

LOUDONVILLE — When one thinks of the National FFA Organization (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America) their famous blue corduroy jackets come to mind first. But for former members one of the fondest memories is the Supervised Agricultural Experience (or SAE for short).

The SAE is a time-honored component of the FFA experience, a requirement where the student applies their classroom lessons to real life experiences. Today, there are a number of SAE options for students, ranging from internships to research, and even seasonal jobs at agriculture-related businesses.

The traditional SAE, though, is starting your own agricultural business. Whether it’s growing sweet corn to sell at the local farmers market, or mowing neighbor’s yards, many students enjoy planning, implementing, and operating their small business. Ownership SAEs also require the student to assume the financial risk, and that means for some students the dream of an ownership-based SAE is out of reach.

In 2019, the struggle for some to afford ownership SAEs was brought to the attention of the Loudonville FFA Alumni and Supporters, an independent non-profit that helps support agricultural education in the Loudonville-Perrysville school district.

The local FFA Chapter advisor informed the Alumni organization that many students were unable to start their ownership SAEs because their families could not afford to help with start up funds.

Financial struggles are no surprise in the district, which covers rural areas of Ashland, Richland, Knox, Holmes and Wayne Counties and has been designated “low income” by the state, with over 25% of families living below the poverty level.

Was there a way they could help, the organization wondered?

That’s when Kenny Libben, vice president of the Alumni organization, teamed up with Brian Hinkle of Park National Bank to discuss the possibilities of a new concept — offering micro-loans to students.

After some initial discussion, the Youth Agricultural Micro-Loan Program was established.

In essence, the alumni will offer micro-loans of up to $500 to FFA students interested in starting an ownership SAE. Those loans will need to be paid back, with minimal interest, but will help at-need students buy necessary supplies — be it a used lawn mower for their landscaping business, a market hog to show at the fair, or even a log-splitter to sell firewood.

Park National Bank signed on as an administrative partner and will provide approved students with amortization schedules and deposit slips to help pay back their loans, but Libben stressed that it would the the Alumni organization providing the loans and not Park, who can only participate as an administrative partner for legal reasons.

Libben’s hope is that the program will be seen more as a hand-up rather than hand-out, with the organization looking forward to not only helping students get started but also working alongside them to help understand financial responsibility as well as better business practices.

The organization plans to award the first micro-loans this spring, but first they must raise the necessary capital to fund the program.

“Park National Bank and Brian Hinkle have been amazing to work with,” Libben stated, “and we are honored that they are not only acting as an administrative partner for this program but also awarded us $1,000 in seed money.”

The alumni organization knows they need to raise more, though, and are looking for both corporate donors and local farmers who want to help students start their own small businesses. Those wanting to support the program can make checks payable to Loudonville FFA Alumni (add Micro-Loan in the memo line) and send to Loudonville FFA Alumni and Supporters, PO Box 332, Loudonville, Ohio 44842.

As a 501c3 non-profit organization, donations to the program can be tax deductible.

Libben noted that the concept may serve as a pilot program for other FFA chapters around the country—but acknowledged that the focus right now is raising sufficient seed money and getting local students working on their small projects. Once enough funds are raised, the alumni organization will host an informational meeting for students and parents to better explain how the program will work and how they can apply.

In the meantime, Libben invited anyone with questions to contact the Loudonville FFA Alumni and Supporters at 419 651-8324 (text or leave message) or by emailing loudonvilleffaalumni@gmail.com.

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