Indianapolis - Throughout her career as a journalist, Jan Shepel has covered a myriad of issues and interviewed countless people.
Some of her most favorite interviews, however, are youth involved with the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
“In my years of writing for Country Today and most recently Wisconsin State Farmer I’ve been able to meet Star Farmers and award winners as well as rank and file FFA members and I’ve always loved being able to write about them and tell their stories,” Shepel said. “They’re a very energetic and passionate group of individuals and I’ve always enjoyed doing it.”
Although Shepel has never donned the signature blue FFA jacket, she was among an elite group of individuals receiving the Honorary American FFA Degree during the 89th National FFA Convention & Expo held in Indianapolis last week.
Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, those who have made outstanding contributions to FFA are honored with Distinguished Service Citations, VIP awards or the Honorary American FFA Degree.
Shepel said she was notified of the honor in August but didn’t contemplate making the trip to Indianapolis until the last minute.
“With our farming operation, I didn’t think I could take the time to go in person, but as the date drew close…I thought stuff like this doesn’t happen to very many people very often,” Shepel said. “It was very flattering to be honored that way.”
Shepel met her husband, Jim, in Baraboo while working for Country Today; never thinking she would actually wind up being a farmer’s wife.
“I was never in FFA or didn’t grow up on a farm so I didn’t have that connection. However, I attended UW River Falls and got my degree in Animal Science and Ag Journalism,” Shepel said. “Soon after graduating I found myself working for a community weekly publication in Minnesota covering school board meetings and the like. What I really wanted to do was write about agriculture.”
Shepel says that one of her favorite ways to support FFA members and alumni in her communities of Lodi and Waunakee is through a food booth at the Lodi Agricultural Fair. Working together with her husband and a group of volunteers, they man a food stand during the four-day run of the fair toasting grilled cheese sandwiches using real cheddar cheese and butter.
“This came about after my husband had offered to donate real cheese for the cheeseburgers at one of the food stands after he discovered they used nacho cheese instead. They declined his offer and he decided we should open our own food stand,” Shepel said. “That was 12 years ago and it’s grown every year.”
Last year Shepel estimates that they toasted over 1400 sandwiches and were able to donate the profit – about $1000 each – to the Lodi and Waunakee FFA Alumni groups.
“The people liked (the stand) so much that we continued,” Shepel said with a laugh.
In retrospect, Shepel is glad that she made the 11-hour round trip from her DeForest home to the national convention.
“I’m extremely honored to be selected for this degree,” she said. “I’m not sure how it happened, but I appreciate that someone put my name in the hopper and made it happen.”