To say that Waupaca's FFA Chapter had a very good year would be an understatement. At the Wisconsin State FFA Convention, held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison June 13-16, the Waupaca Chapter was named state winner of the National Chapter Award.
Waupaca FFA won that honor out of 236 FFA chapters in Wisconsin and may advance now to the national competition, if judges select the chapter as one of the top ten nationally. This marks the 11th time in the past 16 years that Waupaca FFA has earned first place among state chapters at the state convention.
Jennifer Erb, a chapter advisor in Waupaca for 24 years, explains that the National Chapter application involves three areas – student, chapter and community activities. For each of those areas, the chapter must set goals, talk about the actions they took toward achieving those goals and the results they obtained. 'So there are nine different activities,' she said.
One of the bigger projects the chapter worked on this year was Kids Against Hunger. Her members solicited and got $10,000 in donations and partnered with Rock County Rotary members who created the program. The Waupaca students packaged 45,000 meals that were then distributed to food pantries across the Midwest and even internationally.
It's an activity her students had experience with five years ago. 'It is the brainchild of a couple of guys in the Rock County Rotary and they show up with a scale and zip lock machines and a scale and we packaged 45,000 meals in less than three hours,' she said.
The Rotarians had the knowledge on specifications for the boxes in order to make them legally shippable and helped her students get the job done right with their troop of FFA members who volunteered to do the work. Her students also worked with a Waupaca-area food pantry to make sure the hungry in their own area had meals.
Waupaca FFA members are also active in a community garden that includes 2 ½ acres of garden and a small orchard. Part of the garden is set up with raised and handicapped-accessible planting beds so residents of nursing homes can garden there. Last year the community garden produced 3,000 pounds of produce, much of which was donated to the local food pantry and elder care facilities in the area.
Once each week, meals are prepared for the needy and during the summer much of the produce is used in those meal preparations.
Another project was organized by her chapter right before prom when the chapter put on an 'altered' driving demonstration. It included not only staging a car accident and having volunteers portray injured and killed students, but they called in Flight for Life, ambulances and the coroner to demonstrate what really happens during such an accident.
Those in attendance saw body bags and heard from a quadriplegic who talked about her accident and how it changed her life. A county judge spoke to students about the legal ramifications that befall people involved in such accidents.
Organized events like those no doubt contributed to the Waupaca FFA Chapter's selection for the national chapter award. Erb explained that before the National FFA Convention, usually in the first week or two of August, a panel of ag teachers, ag professors and other experts, select FFA chapters as Models of Excellence or Models of Innovation. Ten of those chapter winners are chosen to compete for the National Chapter Award at the National Convention.
Leading the way toward that overall chapter award, individual Waupaca FFA members also earned first place in the student development division, first in the chapter development division and first in the community development division. 'That's pretty rare,' says Erb. 'We had a good year. You don't want to be greedy but we also had a state officer candidate and if we had gotten that it would have been icing on the cake.'
Asked what contributes to the success of the chapter which she advises with the help of co-advisor Rene Lehman, Erb said it is only made possible with the support of many in the community.
'The formula is this – we have administration and teachers that are supportive, plus a supportive school board, very supportive FFA alumni and kids that care,' she said. 'Anybody who's ever been in this position will tell you that all those things are important and essential.'
Waupaca's FFA Chapter includes 143 members. A Junior High FFA group from Waupaca was also honored with second place in opening and closing ceremonies, she adds.
Every chapter is known for certain things and Waupaca has built a reputation for having proficiency winners, but this year was very special for Erb, Lehman and their members.
Food for America
Waupaca was awarded third place among all the state's chapters for its activities in the Food for America program – an annual program that looks for ways to educate consumers on production agriculture and how their food gets to their table.
In Waupaca County, and in others around the state, FFA chapter members hold a Day on the Farm to explain to elementary school students about how farmers produce food. Erb said her chapter also educates through displays and other events to promote production agriculture.
It helped burnish the chapter's reputation when Caleb Hamm, a Waupaca FFA member who graduated this year, was named the 2016 Wisconsin Star Farmer. He is the first star farmer from Waupaca in at least 30 years – certainly the first in Erb's tenure as advisor.
'In the 24 years I've been here we've had eight runner-ups. Caleb's mother was a runner-up. He is a really cool kid and deserved to win that award.'
This award recognizes students who have expanded their knowledge and their own agricultural related enterprise where they have mastered skills in production, finance and ownership management.
Hamm was recognized for his Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE), which includes a small flock of sheep, pigs, poultry and dairy cows. He plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will major in dairy science.
Six Waupaca FFA members were recognized for earning first place with their proficiency applications. They include: Elisha Riley – Organic Agriculture; Taylor Eilers – Beef Production; Garrett Orr – Environmental Science; Erin Montgomery – Equine Science; Leah Piotter – Poultry Production; Tanner Johnson – Swine Production.
These members will find out this summer if they are selected as one of the four national finalists. If they are selected, they will compete at National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana in October.
Waupaca FFA members who earned state gold ratings include:
Ag. Mechanics Repair & Maintenance - Brett Koski 2nd gold
Beef Production Entrepreneurship -Taylor Eilers 1st gold
Beef Production Placement - Violet Thielke 4th gold and Blake Orr 5th gold
Dairy Production- Jensen Trinrud 11th gold and Kimberly Zills 20th gold
Diversified Agricultural Production - Kimberly Zills 4th gold
Diversified Crop Production - Griffin Trinrud 4th gold
Diversified Livestock - Taylor Eilers 2nd gold, and Caleb Hamm 8th gold
Environmental Science & Natural Resources – Garrett Orr 1st gold
Equine Science- Erin Montgomery 1st gold and Maddison Moericke 4th gold
Forage Production - Alex Orr 5th gold
Home and/or Community Development - Erin Montgomery 3rd gold
Organic Agriculture - Elisha Riley 1st gold
Poultry Production - Leah Piotter 1st gold and Josh Peglow 3rd gold
Sheep Production - Taylor Eilers 2nd gold
Small Animal Production & Care - Elisha Riley 2nd gold
Swine Production Entrepreneurship - Austin Hovarter 6th gold and Logan Montgomery 8th gold
Swine Production Placement – Tanner Johnson 1st gold
Erin Montgomery, Violet Thielke, Kimberly Zills, Taylor Eilers, Caleb Hamm, and Jared Borntrager competed in the FFA Opening and Closing Ceremony contest for high school students.
Bryce Schuelke, Everlah Riley, Paige Swanson, Aaron Hamm, Abby Perket, and Alona Bruno earned second place in the FFA Opening and Closing Ceremony Contest for middle school students, the team will compete at National Convention in Indianapolis in October.
Jared Borntrager, Erin Montgomery, Garrett Orr, Kimberly Zills, Raymond Zills, and Caleb Hamm all earned the Wisconsin FFA State Degree.
Taylor Eilers competed in the State FFA Prepared Speaking Contest and earned 3rd place.
Taylor Eilers and Erin Montgomery served as official chapter delegates.
Taylor Eilers was named a Three Star Leader. This honor rated her as one of the best FFA members in Wisconsin during the 2015-2016 school year. The Three Star Leader Award recognizes a selected FFA member from a local chapter for being actively involved in chapter activities in National Chapter Student Development, Chapter Development, and Community Development division.
The first chapter to be featured in this monthly series. Waupaca FFA was named the top chapter in the state at the recent Wisconsin State FFA Convention.