TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Years of hard work and commitment paid of for four Idaho FFA members who were chosen for the organization’s highest honor — the state Star award — during the 2014 FFA State Leadership Conference April 11 at the College of Southern Idaho.
Kelsie Ward of Blackfoot claimed the honor of Star Farmer, Shane Spitz of Ashton grabbed the Star in Agricultural Placement, Molly Roberts of Midvale lassoed the Star in Agribusiness, and Jordan Cook of Shelly captured the Star for Agriscience.
District finalists in each of the categories from Idaho’s nine FFA districts compete to be top in the state. Being chosen as a Star is quite an honor, entails a lot of work, and represents commitment and achievement, the Stars’ advisers said.
Stars are chosen among students who earn their state FFA degree, earn a certain amount of money and complete a certain amount of community service, said Charles Ledington, ag adviser at Midvale High School.
Potential Stars participate in a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) for three or four years. SAEs are a hands-on work experience and a career opportunity to test students’ compatibility with a particular segment of agribusiness they choose, involving innumerable hours and extensive recordkeeping.
Their SAE program is a real-life experience they can build on for their future, and many projects turn into businesses, even large corporations, Ledington said.
Ward, 17, a senior at Snake River High School, grew barley and hay and raised registered and commercial livestock for her SAE project. The barley and hay were under contract, and she raised the commercial cows to work on embryo transplants along with her registered breed.
She’s a fifth-generation producer and works on the family farm in exchange for the use of the farm’s equipment. She plans pursue a degree in crop science or animal science, starting her college career at either College of Southern Idaho or BYU-Idaho, and intends to continue in the business after college.
"Agriculture is my life. I live it, breathe it and eat it. I can’t see myself doing something else," she said.
Her ag adviser, J.B. Hoge, said the Star Farmer is a great honor. It’s the highest award and takes a lot of commitment and a great project to achieve, he said.
Spitz, 18, is a senior at North Fremont High School who began working on a local farm in eighth grade. A couple of years later, he went to work for a different farm during the growing season and a motor sports store in the off-season.
He started out doing menial labor, but his responsibilities have grown with his knowledge and development. Now he’s trusted to plant, cultivate, maintain equipment and the center pivot, and harvest, said ag adviser Tom Jacobson.
The star award recognizes Spitz’s work ethic, desire to improve, quality hours and quality SAE project, said ag adviser Rob Bingham.
Spitz said he’s enlisted for a stint in the Marines but then plans to attend college and open his own custom-farming business.
Roberts, 17, is a junior at Midvale High School and partners with her father in the Roberts’ Mighty Mini-Mules of Midvale, a 12- and 16-hitch miniature mule team that performs at wild west shows, rodeos, fairs and parades.
She drives the two hind mules and her father drives the two lead mules. She’s been showing mules since she was 8 years old, with a few prestigious titles under her belt, and also trains mules and horses.
Not only did Roberts win a Star award, her SAE project was the top entrepreneurial project of the state degrees this year, ag adviser Ledbetter said.
Roberts said her work with equines takes a lot of time and effort, from feeding and training the animals to booking shows, doing the books and keeping the business in the spotlight with social media.
Roberts said she is really into the equine industry and is trying to get her name out as a trainer and an equine business person.
She intends to pursue a veterinary degree, starting her college career at College of Southern Idaho and moving on to the University of Idaho, she said.
Cook, 18, is a senior at Shelley High School who had watched other FFA members get star awards in the past and asked his ag advisers to help him grab one of his own.
He combined his SAE and senior projects to focus on helping people allergic to gluten or with celiac disease find an alternative to wheat flour. He took four varieties of oats, growing two from experimental seed, grinding them into flour and using it to make chocolate cakes.
He was looking for an affordable gluten-free flour that best compared to wheat flour. He performed taste testing with the cooperation of middle school, home economics students and found a commercially-grown oat variety performed the best, taking the top two rankings.
He then presented his findings to the public at a high school parent/teacher conference.
"Hopefully my results help somebody," he said.
The goal was to come up with an alternative to wheat flour, said ag adviser Vince Wray. Oat flour at health food stores is very expensive and doesn’t work well for baking.
Cook did a good job with the project, it was a great experience and he learned a lot. And the multi-year project will continue with another student working on the next phase, focusing on hull-less barley, next year, he said.
Cook will soon be heading off for a mission with the Church of Latter Day Saints and plans to pursue an engineering degree with an emphasis on welding, starting at University of Utah-Eastern and finishing at Weber State University