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Ex-FFA student gives back in fundraiser for Northwestern chapter

Pat "Charlie" Abrahamzon is a man of his word.

The owner of Charlie's Riverside made a promise to Keith Becker, Northwestern High School's agriculture education teacher.

"I told him 'I can't say no to FFA, especially this particular chapter,'" said Abrahamzon, a Northwestern graduate. That's why Charlie's Riverside will host a meat raffle fundraiser today to help send five Future Farmers of America students to nationals.

"I went to that convention twice," Abrahamzon said. "It's an amazing event for students to meet youth from all over the country."

Becker, who grew up on an Eau Claire-area farm, agreed.

"When 50,000-plus people descend in blue jackets, it's breathtaking," he said. The students will hear speakers, attend workshops, tour a large-scale dairy operation and connect with fellow students from around the country.

Agriculture education isn't just for farmers. At Northwestern High School, students can learn welding, study the skills and terminology needed to be a veterinarian or become an expert in pet care by taking various agriculture education classes. They also get hands-on skills in leadership, speaking and critical thinking, Becker said. "A lot of it adds up to career success."

Agriculture is the nation's largest employer with more than 23 million jobs involved in some facet of the industry, according to the National FFA Organization.

"It's not just raising hogs or cattle on a farm anymore," Becker said. Agriculture encompasses marketing, sales, journalism, genetics, veterinary medicine and dozens of related industries, such as restaurants and grocery stores.

"I would say now more than ever, agricultural literacy is becoming a major issue," Becker said. Consumers who understand the food chain, how it's produced and handled, are more apt to understand an outbreak of salmonella, the political weight a grain embargo carries or the link between weather and food prices.

"It's important for everyone to see the connection and how it works," said Lezlie Halladay, a Maple farmer with 250 head of cattle.

Abrahamzon grew up on a dairy farm and was an FFA member throughout high school, serving as chapter president. He took part in speaking contests, judging of animals and safety programs.

"It was incredibly influential for me," he said, and the lessons he learned helped in both his radio broadcast career and his new role as business owner.

The high school has offered agriculture education since at least 1950, according to the Maple school district. That heritage is coupled with a great new facility, said Abrahamzon, who has chosen to become what he calls "an FFA booster."

Those interested in supporting the FFA chapter are invited to stop by today at Charlie's Riverside, 4385 S. County Road U, South Range. The afternoon kicks off with barbecue ribs and chicken served from 3-4 p.m. The FFA meat raffle takes place from 4-7 p.m.