NEWS

Opportunities abound for Wisconsin FFA members on national stage

Michelle Stangler
Correspondent

Nearly 70,000 FFA members from across the nation gathered at the annual National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana. Wisconsin members not only attended, but captured top honors in many areas.

Nearly 70,000 FFA members gathered in Indianapolis for the four-day National FFA Convention and Expo.

Award winners and finalists where recognized and business matters conducted all through the four-day convention. And among the steep competition, individual Wisconsin FFA members earned recognition as an American Star Finalist and a proficiency winner. Closing out the convention, Spencer, Wisconsin native Cortney Zimmerman gave a farewell address closing the chapter on her year spent serving on the National FFA officer team.

Top Honors as an American Star Farmer Finalist

Juda FFA member Emily Makos not only received her American Degree, but was a finalist in American Star Farmer competition, earning the designation based upon her work with her herd of rabbits which multiplied from one to 100. Makos made the cut as a finalist that demonstrated outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of a supervised agricultural experience (SAE).

The Juda FFA member sells rabbits to many customers, some of which process the meat into rabbit brats, sausage and jerky. Makos says the nutritional value of rabbit is extremely high. She also pointed out that the meat is also used to manufacture dog food.

Emily Makos

Not all of her rabbits end up on plate, though. Makos shows her rabbits nationwide and sells smaller, softer breeds as therapy pets. After seeing an autism student receive a rabbit and show an improvement in concentration and behavior in school, Makos saw this as an opportunity to grow the business.

Throughout her time in the National FFA Organization, she’s learned how to remain resilient and dedicated to her project, broaden her communication skills, and says the relationships she has made have helped forge a path for future opportunities.

Makos is a graduate student at Concordia University Wisconsin and is studying to become an occupational therapist where she hopes to use animal therapy in her practice.

Coming from a small town, Makos didn't believe the opportunity to create a unique project was possible. 

Proficiency winner spent hours at processing plant

Ethan Meissner of the Marshfield FFA chapter has been employed at a local meat processing facility ever since asking to work Saturdays at age 15. The skills he learned on the job helped him to become a national proficiency winner in the area of Agricultural Processing Entrepreneurship/Placement. 

Working from the ground floor up, Meissner's responsibilities started with cleaning the facility and assisting customers in loading up their purchased products. His on the job performance has lead to more hours and obtaining experience of mixing, stuffing, and grinding the product as well as cutting fresh product for retail sale. Meissner also engaged in the smoking, curing, packaging and labeling processes.

Ethan Meissner

Meissner said at first he was new to interacting with customers and over time gradually improved his communication skills. Since meat processing takes many years of experience, he is looking forward to continuing to learn the trade, he said.

He is currently studying agricultural engineering at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and hopes to stay involved in the processing side of the industry since there are many processing related careers such as creating new equipment and machinery.

His advice to students: “As you join FFA, you just learn more and more about different things and it’s so diverse.”

Wisconsin also had five other finalists: Ag Education, Ben McMeeken, Slinger; Dairy Production, Placement, Randall Winch, Fennimore; Diversified Horticulture, Ashley Warren, Weyauwega-Fremont; Nursery Operations, Olivia Bramstedt, Howards Grove; and Specialty Animal Production, Ashley Johnson, Weyauwega-Fremont.

Wisconsin produced 12 gold, 16 silver and 3 bronze proficiency recipients.

National FFA Band hits the right notes

While many FFA members are busy with their agricultural experiences at home, they also have many other talents. Ally Loosen of the Slinger FFA chapter was among five musicians from Wisconsin that participated in the National FFA Band. As an historical year in which the organization celebrated a milestone anniversary, the band reflected upon memories from the past and held performances throughout the Expo.

“We did a lot of talking this year over the fact that there’s no other youth organization that sponsors a band of this size at the National level,” said Loosen.

Ally Loosen

The band played 15 pieces of music that they had never seen before rehearsals four days before the opening of the convention. Band members were chosen after an application process and their talents came together to sound like a band that’s played together many times before, said Loosen.

Her agricultural experiences in the blue corduroy jacket have brought her to where she’s at today; raising 75 dairy feeder calves in addition to raising show cattle.

"Leaving that all behind (at home) to be here was a bit tough, but I am so blessed to have this opportunity,” said the Slinger FFA member.

Loosen also served as the drum major, which included directing and walking in the opening session, a coveted spot that many auditioned for.

“This experience has taught me how to be a better person (and) how to have a growth mindset even when things seem so impossible,” she said.

Fellow band member Mark Wanek of the Denmark FFA chapter said the most enjoyable part was meeting people from across the nation.

“Learning about they’re doing in their chapters will allow me to bring this information back to my home chapter,” said Wanek.

Other talented FFA members include 7 chorus members and a talent participant.

Other band members included: Vaida Goplin, Whitehall; Mary Lewandowski, Wittenberg-Birnamwood FFA; and Emily Skala, Pulaski. Members of the National FFA Choral group included: Lillian and Simone Cook, Emma Freeman, Rio; Aiden Kelly, Ellsworth;  Devin Klomsten, Whitehall, Makenna Kunz, Waupun; and Hannah Nelson, Denmark. 

Zachary Graham of the Platteville FFA was the lone Wisconsin representative in the talent division.

Wisconsin’s National FFA Officer Concludes the Year

Cortney Zimmerman of the Spencer FFA chapter concluded her year as a member of the 2021-2022 National FFA Officer team. She served as Central Region Vice President. Previously, she served as the 2020-2021 Wisconsin FFA State Vice President and was an active member since 7th grade.

Zimmerman says she spent time traveling across the country attending state FFA conventions, camps and many other events. When reflecting upon the year, she says she's enjoyed meeting FFA members where they were at and notes that small actions today can impact students' lives for the future.

Cortney Zimmerman

While her packed schedule presented many opportunities, Zimmerman says she also faced some challenges. She paid tribute to her ag teacher, FFA advisor and father Mark Zimmerman during her retiring address titled, ‘The Courage to Live Life’.

During her tearful address, Zimmerman recalled how her father faced his own challenges with courage and positivity. Mark Zimmerman, passed away in June just weeks after the Wisconsin FFA Convention, following a lengthy battle with cancer.

"He changed the lives of students because he believed in the lives of students. He believed in me," she said in her address. Despite his illness, she said her father continued to run the family cattle business and teach class, choosing to maintain a positive attitude despite his circumstances.

"Rather than asking yourself 'why me?' ask yourself 'what's next?'" she told the convention audience. "What can I do to face the challenges that life has granted me?"

When asked what advice she had for FFA members experiencing similar challenges she said, “Life is tough, and it’s hard, but that’s okay. We become stronger people because of that, when we accept the challenges that life gives us, then we can grow from those.”

Zimmerman is looking forward to continuing her education and hopes to graduate with a degree in agricultural communications and leadership.

Zimmerman also shared the spotlight with her mother Cheryl Zimmerman, Wisconsin FFA Executive Director. The elder Zimmerman is currently the first female National FFA Advisor serving as the Interim Chair of the National FFA Board of Directors. Cheryl will serve in this role until January 1 when Dr. Travis Park officially begins his term.

While there are many awards and honors from the National FFA Convention & Expo, business was conducted by 12 delegates of the Wisconsin FFA association, including State FFA President Casey Denk. 475 delegates voted on business matters that will guide the organization to the future during sessions throughout the week, including committee reports the delegates were all part of.

This year’s convention full award announcemenst from Wisconsin can be found at wisconsinaged.org/events/national-convention.