Kathleen Houlihan is a leader in workforce innovation and she is the Founder of an agency that reimagines talent acquisition and optimizes the system for candidates and employers. Her company, Dream2Career, provides human-centric ROI solutions that filter-in candidates who exceed expectations in the workplace.
One of my most vivid memories from high school is walking through the front doors and past the trophy case everyday. I would look in awe at all of the accomplishments of those before me: state championships, countless tournament trophies, and small sections dedicated to individuals who went above and beyond in their sport.
While I loved looking at all of those awards, there was one area in the case that always stood out to me. Right at the end of the trophy case in a spot by itself hung a sun-faded FFA jacket with the stitching, ‘Mark Wilburn, National Vice President, 1997-98,’ and a picture of my uncle Mark shaking President Bill Clinton’s hand. When I was a scrawny little 7th grader, to me it looked like it was out of place. With all of the metallic gold, silver and bronze, how did this corduroy jacket fit in?
It wasn’t until later in high school that I truly found out the significance of that corduroy jacket. That jacket didn’t just bring a whole community together; it brought a whole nation together. It doesn’t hold stories just from Van-Far; it holds stories from schools across the country. The impact that FFA has on my family, my school and my community is tremendous. It’s brought us together and allowed us to experience memories and opportunities second to none. That FFA jacket more than belonged in that trophy case.
We have the ability not only in FFA, but also in our careers to make something meaningful. We can bring communities together and achieve goals we had no clue that could exist. It’s up to you to make that impact.
I lost my glasses a few months ago. I had just gone to the eye doctor, so I was bound and determined to find them. I never did, so I bit the bullet and picked out a new pair. When they finally came in, I put them on and realized how much sharper everything was. Without my glasses, I have to stare at things endlessly before they come into focus.
Focus. With the craziness of this last year — Covid-19, transitioning from high school to college, moving from the smallest town to urban living — I lost focus. My world was shaken up. My vision was blurry. Why was I doing this again? What is my purpose? I was focusing on all the things I couldn’t control and my forever-long to-do lists. I was spiraling about the smallest details. Not taking time to breathe and enjoy the moments.
Last week, I started to see through a different lens. It was National FFA Convention week, so I spent four days straight with my state officer team doing what I love. I was reminded of the joy surrounding me, and how much I want to surround others with that same joy. I need to focus on things I can control, and on all of the amazing things happening around me.
Sometimes we need a reset, a wake up call. A reminder of why we care. A shift in focus. There will always be something negative, but there will also always be something to be grateful for. So, don’t be stubborn. Get your new glasses, and be willing to see through a new lens. Choose to focus on the good.
Ashland FFA member Ethan Hilgedick recognized as national proficiency finalist in fruit production
From corn, soybeans and wheat to cotton, rice and watermelon, yes, watermelon, Missouri’s diverse agricultural landscape is bountiful.
And for Ashland FFA member Ethan Hilgedick, that diversity provided the perfect opportunity for him to build an award-winning supervised agricultural experience project (SAE). Hilgedick is a national finalist in the fruit production proficiency award area for his watermelon production SAE. The winner will be announced as part of the virtual National FFA Convention, Oct. 27-29.
Farming the Missouri River bottoms in Hartsburg, Hilgedick leases land from Riverside Farms. The young entrepreneur is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle and has gleaned much advice from his predecessors on how to grow a successful crop.
“In the spring of 2017, I built a grow-room in the basement of my grandfather’s farmhouse to manage the temperature, water and the amount of light for my seedlings,” Hilgedick says.
Each spring, Hilgedick germinates more than 5,000 seeded and seedless watermelons in the grow room. At planting time, an attachment on the back of a tractor helps Hilgedick get the seedlings in the ground. Come harvest, though, it’s all hands on deck. A crew of hired FFA members assists in bringing the fruit in from the field.
“At the farm, I package the watermelons on pallets and deliver them to stores,” Hilgedick says. “In the spring of 2018, I increased the number of acres of watermelon. My additional supply was sold by expanding my marketing efforts to grocery stores such as Moser’s, HyVee, Schulte’s and Lucky’s Supermarkets. Expanding my marketing increased my operation’s profits.”
Hilgedick says his business has given him management experience. “Being an owner and operator of a business was always an interest of mine,” he says. “As a young crop producer and entrepreneur, I have learned that it is critical to pay attention to every aspect of producing the product.”
For Hilgedick, success can be found in the details. From walking the fields to checking for insect damage, sampling the soil for moisture content, checking the product for ripeness or observing pallets for broken boards, it all matters to his bottom line.
“Developing high standards early-on in my business has helped my product gain popularity among produce managers and customers,” Hilgedick says. “Paying attention to every detail has allowed me to gain numerous experiences and run a successful business.”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — FFA jacket season! Though zipping up the blue corduroy is often a student’s first experience as an FFA member, it takes strategy at the chapter level to get them hooked on ag education and FFA.
Sullivan FFA Advisor Travis Kramme says timing is the key to retention.
“This is my 18th year teaching agriculture education, and one thing has been true year after year,” he explains. “The students in my Ag Science I classes who get involved in FFA activities are the same students who are in our program until graduation and become four-year active members in FFA. The Ag Science I students who don’t make it to any FFA activities during that first semester usually don’t come back as sophomores and find other programs and electives to be involved with.”
An important first step in capturing students’ interest is to debunk the myth that ag education is all about “cows and plows,” says Nathan Isakson, Ash Grove FFA Advisor.
Karson Calvin, a sophomore at Troy Buchanan High School and member of the Troy FFA Chapter, agrees that chapters should promote FFA as a multi-faceted organization.
“It’s not just production agriculture, and there’s a diverse range of activities that can fit everyone,” Calvin says.
Recognizing the importance of relationships and tradition also helps capture students’ interest and sense of belonging.
“In a normal year, we have a back-to-school meeting and ag department open house,” says Cord Jenkins, Rolla FFA Advisor. “This is a big event that our officers spend a great deal of time planning. We invite all of our first-year members and their parents to this meeting. It is structured so we have social time on the front and back end of the meeting.”
Jenkins says this helps make new members feel included as an integral part of the program. Calvin agrees that building relationships was one piece he remembered most from his first year in FFA.
“My favorite chapter activities last year were the LDEs and our Friendsgiving,” he says. “I was on our Conduct of Chapter Meetings team, and my favorite part about it was growing closer with my teammates. While training in the spring, we had some funny moments that stick out as I look back at last year. My other favorite activity was our Friendsgiving. It was a fun time as we were playing games, enjoying some good food and becoming closer as a chapter.”
Kramme, Isakson and Jenkins all say they call upon older students and FFA members to help build a sense of community through using student teacher aids, officer mentors or a buddy system.
Calvin adds that honing in on tradition and the advice of other students helps inspire members to get involved.
“My dad, brother and sister were really involved in FFA, and if there’s one thing they’ve taught me, it’s that you get out of FFA what you put into it,” he says. “I know people who were involved in FFA and received much in return. I hope to do the same.”
The theme for the 2021 GROWMARK Essay Contest is: “If you could invent a new technology to improve agriculture, what would it be?” The contest is open to all high school FFA members in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
This is the 28thyear for the program, sponsored by the GROWMARK System and FS member cooperatives, in conjunction with state FFA leaders, to help young people develop their writing skills, learn about current issues affecting agriculture, and understand the unique role of cooperatives.
Students will describe a problem within the agricultural industry, and a creative way to provide a solution. Students are encouraged to be creative with their ideas, whether or not the solution they propose is currently possible.
Essays will be submitted online at www.bit.ly/GMKEssay2021. The deadline for all submissions is midnight Central time on November 6, 2020. Additional program details have been sent to agriculture teachers and are online at www.growmark.com.
Each state’s winner earns a $500 award and the winner’s FFA chapter receives a $300 award. Four runners-up per state each win $125 awards.
The program is offered annually and many agriculture teachers use it as part of their class curriculum. Past topics have included sustainability, careers in agriculture, and the cooperative principles.
GROWMARK is a regional cooperative providing agronomy, energy, facility planning, and logistics products and services, as well as grain marketing and risk management services, across North America. GROWMARK owns the FS trademark, which is used by affiliated member cooperatives. More information is available at www.growmark.com.
Santa Fe FFA member Jacob Dierking wins State Star Farmer after tackling the challenges of a beginning farmer.
Breaking into the industry as a young farmer comes with its challenges. Missouri FFA’s State
Star Farmer is all too familiar with the hurdles and roadblocks that must be overcome. Jacob
Dierking of the Santa Fe FFA Chapter started this journey through his Supervised Agricultural
“In 2015, I was given an opportunity by two neighboring landowners to start farming, first with a 10-acre field and then another 19 acres on which I grew corn,” he says. “In 2016, I was able to rent 35 acres to grow corn. I also began a vegetable business growing 9 acres of sweet corn with my parents and brother.”
With his sights set on growth, Dierking had to choose between focusing on the row crop or vegetable production side of his business throughout the years that followed.
“In 2017, we expanded to growing 80 acres of sweet corn and 34 acres of green beans,” he says. “In 2018, a neighbor retired, and I was able to rent his farm to grow 83 acres of corn and 39 acres of soybeans. Since I was able to rent more land, I decided to scale back the vegetable production so I could properly manage my row crops. In 2019, another farmer retired, and I decided to sell the green bean equipment so I would have the money to invest in crop inputs.”
By 2019, Dierking was farming a total of 195 acres of corn, 111 acres of soybeans and 25 acres of sweet corn.
While his progress is evident, it wasn’t always easy. Dierking had to overcome many challenges, including one of the most prevalent among beginning farmers.
“One major challenge in my SAE was financially being able to purchase enough equipment to farm efficiently,” he says. “When I began my SAE, I was able to exchange my labor with my grandpa for the use of his machinery. Since then, I have been able to purchase many needed pieces of equipment.”
Overcoming roadblocks has empowered Dierking to pursue a career in production agriculture. After graduating from State Fair Community College, he plans to expand his row crop operation by obtaining more land to rent in the future.
Measurable goals help Hermann FFA’s Megan Schneider earn Missouri FFA State Star in Agribusiness.
Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time oriented. While agricultural education students learn these components of SMART Goals in the classroom each year, Missouri FFA’s State Star in Agribusinesshas seen their effectiveness firsthand. Megan Schneiderof the Hermann FFA Chapterstarted her Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) with the decision to keep back her best show gilt and start a breeding operation to produce higher quality show pigs for the county fair.
“One gilt has now turned into roughly 35 sows, 45 laying hens and some beef cattle,” Schneider says. “We started out farrowing sows and selling some of the pigs to local kids to show at county fairs. However, there started to be excess pigs around the farm, so we decided to start selling whole and half pigs for people to butcher themselves.”
Schneider’s operation continued to grow, exposing the need for expansion and diversification.
“As my production increased, it started to exceed local demand, and I needed to expand my markets,” she says. “With the help of my family, the decision was made to start selling at farmers markets and other retail outlets. At the markets, I engage with customers and answer any questions they might have about my products.”
As her SAE evolved, so did Schneider’s goals.
“There have been many goals set for this SAE,” she says. “The first goal was to raise lean and high-quality pork to sell to our customers. Also, to ensure our pigs have high cutability, but, at the same time, they are able to have a high success rate in the show ring.”
With each goal she reached, Schneider set new, higher goals to encourage additional growth. Other goals set included expanding her number of sows to keep up with product demand and creating new flavors and products to retain current customers and attract new ones.
Schneider’s SAE growth has inspired her to pursue a career in the industry. She plans to attend East Central College in Union, Missouri before transferring to the University of Missouri with the goal of earning a masters degree in biochemistry. In addition to beginning a career in agriculture, Schneider hopes to continue the family farm to provide a premium protein product for families to enjoy.
These were my exact thoughts four years ago when I started my freshman year of high school as the “new kid.” The summer before my freshman year, my family moved to the town of Archie, Missouri. I was super excited to move and have the opportunity to join FFA, but I was also nervous to leave my old life, just to hopefully like what Archie had to offer.
As August rolled around, I started to dread the first day of school. What if I hated it? What if I wanted to move back?
Finally, the first day of school arrived. I remember going to most of my classes, but I’ll never forget the moment when I walked into my Introduction to Agriculture class. I was greeted by my advisor, who instantly started pestering me with questions about my life and why I had moved to Archie. He asked me why I joined FFA and what I hoped to get out of our organization. He talked about different opportunities within the organization.
I was hesitant at first. I was too scared of not liking Archie, and I was too nervous to absorb everything that he was saying. I let my what-if thoughts get the best of me, and I wasn’t too sure how my time in the FFA would progress. Of course, I later realized that FFA made me feel at home, but it took me a while to realize that, and I hadn’t been getting the most out of my class.
As you start this crazy school year, remember to always look on the bright side of things and be sure to get the most out of what you are doing. Whether this is your first year at a brand new school or you’ve been at the same school your entire life, I encourage you to give this year everything you have. Try something new, listen to your advisor, don’t be afraid to forget your what-if thoughts. When you do, great things are bound to happen.
Waitlisted. My voice broke as I uddered this word to my mom and grandma as we stood in the bathroom where I was reading my long awaited acceptance letter. I, Felicity Cantrell was now waitlisted from my dream college. I had fallen just short of something I had worked so hard to achieve. I lost.
The news not only broke my heart because it was my dream, but it also hit home because I don’t like to lose.
I have always been extremely competitive and was typically successful when it came to achieving my goals. Whether it was getting varsity cheer captain or being elected to serve in various positions throughout my career in FFA, I usually met my goal.
There were obviously times when I wasn’t successful, but I always used that as fuel to motivate me to try harder the next time. This was different though; interviews were completed and the decision was final. I was not selected, and I was going to have to move on. The next couple of weeks were so hard; my confidence was shot. I referred to myself as a loser, and I was stuck in an awful rut. Then my ag teacher reminded me of a dream I had led myself to believe was unobtainable, being a Missouri State FFA Officer.
I had always dreamed of being a state officer; motivating students is my passion. However, I let my loss make me feel like I couldn’t. This one set back that was totally unrelated made me feel as if I wasn’t good enough.
FFA members, we all have setbacks, and that’s okay. We aren’t always going to be the winner and that is the simple truth we must accept. We will all fall from time to time, but we have to get back up and keep trying. It is in this process we find growth in ourselves.
Our losses are what make our wins so special. If we don’t ever lose, we won’t know how truly special it is to win.