Each October, thousands of FFA members make the journey across the country to the National FFA convention, held this year from October Oct. 23-27 in Indianapolis. Students come to compete, to visit the various booths at the trade show, and to meet new friends.
For some students from Nebraska, this convention meant an opportunity to excel in their respective contests. One of the students who competed at convention was Hannah Kesterson, from Alliance, Neb. She competed in the Food Science Career Development competition, where she earned a first place designation.
“Unlike some of the other events, there are several parts to this one. First, we are each required to take a 50 question written test. The next day, we completed the individual practicums and the team activity,” said Kesterson.
She continued, “One of the practicums is sensory analysis, which has three parts. The first is aromas, which requires contestants to identify smells from powder samples that all look the same. The second is a series of triangle tests. A triangle test is when contestants are given three samples of a food, two of which are the same and one is slightly different, and have to identify the different one. The last part of this practicum is flavor identification. We were required to write down the flavor of each sample by tasting them.”
The second practicum they had to complete regarded food safety and quality. “In one part, we were given numerous customer complaint letters and had to identify if it was a food safety issue or a food quality issue, and also if it was physical, chemical or biological in nature,” she said.
The last part was the team activity. “The final portion of our contest was the team activity. Each team is given the same scenario, which identifies a need for a new or redesigned product and the market to which it should appeal, and ingredients to make the product. We then had to design a product and packaging using the materials given,” she said.
The contest itself is very involved, and requires the students to have a lot of knowledge. Even though they had competed at the state level, nerves were a still there at the national competition.
“Well, we were very nervous about the competition, because there are multiple variations from the state to the national contest. As we waited for our turn at the team project, we lightened the mood by cracking jokes with each other; a little laugher can do a lot for nerves. When we walked out of our presentation, though, we all let out a huge sigh of relief, and the uneasy feeling we had in our stomachs all week was relieved surprisingly quickly,” she said.
This was Kesterson’s first trip to Indianapolis. “I had never been to National Convention before, so I enjoyed seeing everything for the first time. I had a great time spending the week in Indy with our team and others from our chapter, and it was sure a nice break from school. I was really glad we were able to have the excitement of competing, as well as having time to take everything in and enjoy ourselves for a few days after our competition,” she stated.
She started in FFA her senior year of high school, but she took away some very valuable experiences from her time in the program. “I have really enjoyed spending time with others in FFA and building friendships while we participated in numerous activities throughout the year. I’m proud to say that I wore the signature blue jacket, and wish it would have been for longer,” Kesterson said.
She feels that her success was greatly dependant on the others in her life. “Thank you to our advisor, Ms. Walla, for helping us prepare for the contests. Thank you to my parents for supporting me throughout the year, as always. I’d also like to say a huge thank you to the numerous people in our area who support the FFA program. I know we could not have the program we do without these supporters, and I believe that it is a very valuable one to young people across the nation,” she said.
She is currently a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and she is studying Food Science and Technology.
Another student from Nebraska who competed at the national convention was Matt Marcellus of Atkinson, Neb., from West Holt FFA, who was an American Star Finalist in Agricultural Placement.
His supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project was working on his family’s farm, Marcellus Farms. This farm is composed of 4,000 acres of irrigated corn, soybeans, popcorn and dry edible beans, as well as a 600 head cow/calf operation.
“I would make and help make management decisions, supervise employees, and make crop decisions,” he said.
The competition is based on the application that the student’s submit, and Marcellus was a finalist at the state and national level. “It was really nice to be a finalist. It makes you really proud of yourself and everything that you have done,” stated Marcellus.
He enjoyed FFA, and loved competing and gaining skills. “There is something in FFA for everyone. It’s not something that is just for farm kids. Anyone can do it,” he said.
Marcellus has returned to the family farm, and works with his father to run their operation. “We work really well together. Everyone now and then there is some disagreement, but we always work through it,” stated Marcellus.
Another award winner from Nebraska was Bethany Blackburn, from the Rock County FFA chapter, who was awarded the American FFA Degree. This is the highest degree FFA members can earn, and less than one percent of members earn this award.
“When I walked across the stage at the 85th National FFA Convention, it made every bus ride, long day at work, late night studying for contest, and any other work I put towards my degree completely and totally worth it. It was such a great capstone for such a rewarding career with the FFA Organization,” she said.
Her SAE project was also a placement. “My placement was working at the Sybrant Ranch in my hometown of Bassett. I worked during the summer in the hayfield, and just as a general ranch hand. The cool thing about this specific ranch is that they still slide stack their hay, so that was very interesting and educational when it came to haying,” stated Blackburn.
Her experience in FFA is one that she will remember for the rest of her life. “FFA has instilled hard work, dedication, character, passion, and many other values. FFA is such a great tool for helping students learn these values. This is especially important in today’s world because there are not many opportunities for young people to develop these elsewhere,” she said.
Blackburn served as a Nebraska state FFA officer from 2011-2012, and was able to meet a lot of people through her travels. “The connections that you make in the FFA Organization last a lifetime. I have met some of my best friends in this organization and they have and continue to help shape me into the person I am today. Everyone I know through the FFA are doing amazing things and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for them,” she said.
Blackburn is currently a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is studying agricultural education. She believes her experience in FFA and with her advisor, Ann Dvorak, led her to this career path.
“It gave me an opportunity to grow as a leader and person through my love for agriculture. Without these experiences I would not have the passion for teaching others, the drive to get work, and my love for life. It has helped me discover what my purpose is. It is hard to put into words what this organization means to me,” she said. ❖
“When I walked across the stage at the 85th National FFA Convention, it made every bus ride, long day at work, late night studying for contest, and any other work I put towards my degree completely and totally worth it.”
~ Bethany Blackburn, Rocky County