FFA building leaders and stewards for the future

MIDDLEBURY — FFA is a national organization founded by a group of young farmers in 1928. To this day, Vermont’s agricultural traditions are both preserved and modernized thanks to the dedication of today’s generations of stewards of the land, livestock, production, as well as their associated research and management practices.
Formerly known as Future Farmers of America, the group is now known simply as FFA to represent the broader scope of its mission.
At the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, students are part of two mini-chapters of the FFA, one based in Middlebury at the center under the guidance of instructors/advisors Cheryl Werner (Plant and Animal Sciences and Mechanical Sciences), Janice Bosworth (Sustainable Agriculture), Aaron Townshend (Natural Resources Management) and Gretchen Cotell (Diesel Power Technology). Werner, who teaches the pre-technical programs for freshmen and sophomores, has taught agriculture in Addison County for more than 30 years. Sustainable Agriculture instructor Bill VanDeWeert advises the Vergennes mini-chapter. Both chapters frequently meet and participate in state and national events as one team.
Students have the opportunity to compete in Career Development Events against teams from Vermont and around the country and 2017-2018 has been a banner year for the chapter.
Teams travel to FFA events and activities like the Eastern States Exposition (affectionately known as “The Big E”) in Springfield, Mass., and competitions around Vermont to keep their skills sharp. The Big E, held in September, saw the Middlebury FFA Chapter Dairy Judging Team participating in the Eastern Regional Dairy Cattle Management Career Development Event. The Middlebury team consisted of Ashlynn Foster, Emily Lowell, Carrie Tracy, and Maria Welch.
The competition involves three phases. Initially, each team member takes a general dairy industry test, then team members place various classes of dairy cattle in the judging segment. In the final phase, the team must diagnose a dairy production problem to test their ability to collaborate as a team to recommend management changes. With over 50 accomplished FFA judging competitors from 12 states, Middlebury FFA team member Ashlynn Foster was recognized as delivering the top individual score overall.
The Vermont FFA Soils and Land Judging competition, held at Vermont Technical College and also in the fall, pitted students from 10 schools against each other in soil judging, which involved descending into pits to examine topsoil and subsoil. Looking at moisture levels, bedrock, and overall quality, students assessed the arability of the land and its viability for homesteading. In addition to determining whether land would be suitable for a homestead, the students judged how well it could be farmed and which crops are best suited to the land. The Career Center’s FFA team took second place, scoring 762 out of a possible 864 points. The winner overall was Natural Resources Management student Lucas Livingston. Lucas scored 201 out of 216. Also at the top were NRM students Jonathan Alger, Kevin Pearsall, Jonathan Jennings, and Bayly LaRock.
   Mahaila Gosselin and other Plant & Animal Sciences students gather apples to be ground and pressed to make apple cider.
Two Vergennes FFA had teams participated at the FFA National Competition in Indianapolis, Ind., in October 2017. The Parliamentary Procedure team was comprised of Andrew Woods (captain), Emily Jackson, Tianna Rivait, Howie Vander Wey, Brianna VanderWey and Robert Verburg. They gave an impressive 11-minute, on-demand demonstration of their skills, earning them a bronze in category. The Agricultural Mechanics and Technology Team, including Jacob Barnes, Cody De Vries, Mitch Clark and Michael Davis, completed a variety of technical tasks and tests including assembling and programming an irrigation system. The team earned the bronze category, with Cody earning the gold category individually.
At the 2018 Vermont Farm Show, held at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction this past January, both teams competed in various events, including sampling and identifying dairy product origins, authenticity, types, and defects. The Dairy Products events required students to take a somatic cell count, which indicates sanitization levels as well as the California Mastitis Test. Both of these taste tests indicate off flavors in milk due to disease, poor sanitization, or other factors. The Career Center’s FFA team earned first place overall. Individual results included a first place finish for Emily Lowell, second place for McKenna Phillips, and a fourth place overall finish for Kira Kemp. In the Winter Forestry competition, Natural Resources Management student Lucas Livingston earned a first place individual prize. Several other students earned honors in poster presentations and category competitions.
Currently, students are preparing for the Vermont FFA State Convention, which takes place this spring. This competition will address the areas of Dairy and Horse Judging, Spring Forestry, and Mechanics.    OFFICERS OF THE FFA Middlebury chapter lead their fellow members at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center.
Photos courtesy of Hannaford Career Center

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