Article by Jennifer Nesslar can be found at http://www.orangeobserver.com/article/becoming-leaders-through-agriculture
When Alyssa Stewart was young, she and her mother would go to the West Orange Dog Park on Marshall Farms Road.
There, Stewart looked over and saw the cows being raised by West Orange High School’s FFA program. When she asked her mother why the cows were there, she learned about FFA.
As an aspiring veterinarian, Stewart decided she would join FFA in high school.
Julian Poillion, a student at Ocoee High School, with a chicken. Now, as a senior at West Orange High School, Stewart has been a member of FFA for four years. Like many of her peers, the responsibility of FFA is preparing her for her career. Recently, some sheep she raised got time in a Fingerhut commercial.
“There’s a lot of responsibility,” said Mattie Crabtree, president of FFA at West Orange High School. “It really forces to you to grow up and take charge of your own life. With your school work, with a job and animals, you have to be out here twice a day to feed them every single day.”
Life as an FFA student is busy.
For students who raise animals to show at competitions, the responsibility is greater than merely feeding the animals, which must be done twice a day, even on weekends and holidays. The students have to prepare the animals to be shown at competitions and even administer basic shots and nurse animals that are sick.
Students who raise animals show them at fairs and jackpot shows. The FFA chapters at Ocoee and West Orange high schools often attend the Central Florida Fair to show animals. Animals are judged by set of standards, and some animals are even sold.
This experience teaches students not only how to raise animals but also makes them aware of the business side of the field, a part of the profession that particularly interests Shayla Chastain, a sophomore at Ocoee High School.
“You’re learning how to deal with money with the animal,” Chastain said. “You keep track of feed costs, how much you’re feeding, and all the costs that you’ve ever put into that pig.”
FFA members attend Career Development Events not only to develop their knowledge of agriculture but also career skills to prepare for future jobs and future situations. Some events include job interviews, public speaking and even driving a tractor.
At meetings, FFA leaders practice parliamentary procedures and learn about opening and closing ceremonies.
In an extemporaneous speaking competition, Ocoee FFA president Hannah Wagner had 30 minutes to write a five-minute speech about an agricultural question. She then gave the speech about sustainability and answered questions about it.
In April, FFA students competed in an ornamental horticulture competition that featured a variery of categories such as landscaping, marketing and production.
START ‘EM YOUNG
FFA isn’t limited to high school students. Students at SunRidge Middle School also participate in the program, and several are headed to a state competition in ornamental horticulture.
At the Orange County competition, SunRidge students Hendrix Paterson and Sean Lewis placed first for the organic fertilizer they created using household products.
The school has a small area where the students raise chicken and other plants, and they are also able to raise rabbits indoors.
“Being in FFA is a great way to make new friends and network with other people,” said Ashley Redditt, the president of the chapter at SunRidge.
Redditt and Paterson both have family ties to FFA, so that was what initially led them to join the program. They both see it as a way to help them achieve their career goals, and even help them get into competitive programs in college.
But it’s also just a lot of fun.
“It’s been amazing. I’ve loved it. I’m a little addicted to it,” Paterson said.