FFA 'Stars' Shine Bright at Big E

9/21/2013 7:00 AM
By Sarah L. Hamby Connecticut Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The stars were shining brightly at the Eastern States Exposition, or Big E, last weekend as about 20 Stars of the National FFA Organization joined more than 900 FFA students from 18 states to participate in 4-H and FFA Day events.

The FFA Star Awards program promotes and encourages continued development through supervised agricultural experiences (SAE). In order to participate in the FFA Star Ceremony at the Big E, FFA members must already have been recognized as Stars in their home state in their respective category. Candidates are inundated with paperwork, photographed and interviewed.

There are luncheons and photo shoots, and candidates are required to wear official FFA dress — skirts, nylons, dress shoes for ladies; dress pants, dress shoes, collared shirts for young gentlemen. And both wear their official FFA jacket, zipped to the top.

The day is challenging, but Star candidates were not daunted.

Scarlett Abell of Lebanon, Conn., state FFA treasurer for 2011-2012, looked only slightly nervous standing in-between Joenelle Futrelle, 2012-2013 National FFA eastern region vice president, and James Putnam, vice president of Farm Credit East, a major sponsor of the FFA program, during a photo shoot prior to the award ceremony.

Abell, a Star Farmer contestant, was awarded Star Farmer for her work with dairy cattle and on her family’s farm. A 2012 high school graduate, Abell was thrilled to be honored as Star Farmer.

“I worked five years for it,” she said. According to her biography, Abell’s future goals include owning a 200-400 acre dairy farm in upstate New York or South Carolina. Her advice for future Stars?

“Get a good project. Start young. Make it better every year,” she said.

Joining Abell in celebrating Connecticut’s agricultural roots was Chelsea Kegler, a Star in Agribusiness contestant from Mansfield, Conn. Kegler was accompanied by her mother, Bonnie Kegler, and her long-time advisor, Cindy Chotkowski. As part of Kegler’s SAE, she breeds quality lambs for harvest and sale at local farmers markets, sells wool blankets, and raises and shows Jersey cattle. The industrious young lady even has her own business. But how did it all get started? Bonnie Kegler, an agricultural educator, brought home two sheep one day.

“It took off from there,” Chelsea Kegler said. “Thirteen years later and here I am!”

After being honored as a Star in Agribusiness at the Big E, she said she felt accomplished. Without wasting any time, she planned to go pick up her calf for show.

“Gotta continue the work,” she said.

Being recognized as an FFA Star is an honor; recognition for outstanding achievement in agriculture, scholarship and leadership. Connecticut was joined by Virginia in celebrating youth accomplishment in the agricultural arena last week.

“These people are something else,” said Virginia State FFA President Mitch Wallace. “I am proud of the three Star competitors from our state.”

Among the three from Virginia were Mary K. Hammock of Gretna and Whitney Bowman of Mount Jackson.

Hammock’s SAE allowed her to become an artificial insemination technician as well as a fourth-generation dairy farmer competent in postpartum care. However, Hammock’s work did not stop there. She kept records for four years on calf feeding operations, crop production and artificial insemination protocols. This work encouraged her college plans as she plans to attend a good school and gain enough experience to “take over the crop area on the farm” and advocate for the dairy industry. Hammock’s dedication to the family farm, a 76-year-old operation, earned her a Star in Ag Placement.

Virginia FFA members continued to celebrate when Whitney Bowman, state secretary 2013-2014, was congratulated for her success and awarded Star in Agriscience. Bowman completed multiple SAEs, including an internship at a wastewater treatment plant, various research projects and even an introduction to beekeeping. She started work on her first research project when she was in 10th grade. Bowman hopes to attend college with a major in agricultural science and a minor in animal poultry/dairy science.

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