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Mishicot FFA president wins $7,500 from Culver's essay contest

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Mishicot High Schools senior Sam Anhalt won $7,500 in a national Culver's essay contest writing about how her teacher inspired her.

Sam Anhalt, president of the Mishicot Future Farmers of America chapter, has won first place in a national Culver's essay contest about women in agriculture, winning the grand prize of $7,500 for her chapter.

Anhalt, a senior at Mishicot High School, wrote about how her ag teacher and FFA advisor Jamie Propson inspires her in her own career aspirations and passion for agriculture. Anhalt said Propson has helped her become the person she is today through her interests in horticulture.

"I feel that the people who are closest to us and the people we interact with on a daily basis are the people who influence us the most," Anhalt said. "I've spent a lot of time with Mrs. Propson at school and through FFA, and she has really shaped me into the person I am today in leadership aspects, gaining confidence."

Anhalt was first introduced to floriculture in Propson's classroom, where she learned to create flower arrangements. Anhalt said she took that experience and applied it to community service and FFA through making arrangements for the holidays, prom and other occasions. Since then, Anhalt has been hooked on horticulture and is interested in floriculture as a hobby now because of her teacher.

"She's always pushed me to keep trying and to keep furthering my technical skills in the design world so I'd be able to price arrangements and be more comfortable and confident in my design abilities," Anhalt said.

An excerpt from the essay explains the impact Propson had on her: "Mrs. Propson passed a piece of her floriculture passion onto me. It has grown inside of me so much, causing me to share my passion and knowledge with other people who surround me. Her passion for each area of agriculture influences me to continue to explore and to learn more about the multiple areas so that I have a better understanding of the world around me."

Anhalt said she wrote about understanding the world better because Propson has taught her that agriculture is in everything, including the food we eat and clothes we wear. She said she's also realized it's not just farmers, but also science, which to her is very important.

Anhalt is undecided yet about which college she wants to attend or what she wants to major in, but she is thinking about studying environmental engineering because of how important environmental preservation is to her. She said Propson has helped her to realize her leadership skills and find a purpose in life.

"Mrs. Propson has a saying that you should always find a purpose, and sometimes it's a simple ... help somebody else kind of purpose. But I took a larger meaning from that to find my individual purpose in life," Anhalt said. "I would say my purpose in life is more or less trying to lead and help others. The environmental aspect has allowed me to appreciate that as well."

The Mishicot FFA will use the $7,500 to improve their "land lab," a small piece of land next to the school used for horticulture projects like growing apple trees. Anhalt hopes to build a hoop house to grow plants in, like a greenhouse but without temperature control. She said she also wants to install raised garden beds to improve the community garden by increasing the diversity of the plants growing there.

"With my passion for horticulture, I want to continue that passion for other people by furthering developing the Land Lab," Anhalt said. "So we can expand our ability to grow more product and also teach more students about horticulture."

The possibilities of the future for women in agriculture are endless, Anhalt said, adding that as an individual, she looks forward to taking on future leadership roles and being an advocate for Wisconsin ag. She also wants to be an active member of the Mishicot FFA Alumni chapter because they have supported her, and she wants to pay it back for future members.

"I want to make sure I can provide that same support for the next generation of Mishicot FFA members, whether it be through service ... mentoring the students, and also just being an advocate for agriculture as a whole," Anhalt said.

A press release from Culver's said the presence of women in the ag industry has increased by 27% since 2012, and now women make up 36% of industry professionals. They also said more than half of ag-related degrees are now earned by women. The second and third place winners, from Florida and Missouri, earned $5,000 and $2,500 respectively.

The contest is a part of the Culver's Thank You Farmers Project, which has so far raised $2.5 million to support ag education programs, including FFA and other ag-related organizations.

"Reading all these essays about inspiring women farmers, teachers and scientists was a great way to celebrate all that women have contributed to the agricultural industry," said Jessie Kreke, Culver’s senior marketing manager. "As these FFA members prepare to become our country’s future agricultural leaders, it’s clear they have great role models to help them along the way."