Six West Orange-area middle and high schools have FFA students who qualified to compete in state-level Career Development Events next month.
In today’s world, many Americans don’t know how the food they buy gets to grocery stores, much less how or even where the food was grown.
But if you asked students involved in their local FFA chapters these questions, they’d likely be able to rattle off the answers — and even more information — to you in a heartbeat.
The National FFA Organization is the nationwide, intracurricular student organization for those interested in leadership and agriculture. Part of the agricultural education aspect includes the Career and Leadership Development Events, which are meant to help students develop the abilities to think and communicate clearly, as well as apply knowledge in a real-world environment.
Six local schools recently competed in various CDE preliminary competitions, and each has at least one team advancing to the state level.
West Orange and Ocoee high schools will compete in veterinary science; Windermere and Ocoee high schools both will compete in aquaculture, vegetable identification and environmental science; Bridgewater and SunRidge middle schools will compete in aquaculture; and Bridgewater and Ocoee middle schools will compete in vegetable identification.
To qualify for state-level competition in April, teams had to score in the top 10, 20 or 30, depending on the specific category. Depending on category, the specific dates and locations for each competition vary.
“They have to basically be able to do the identification of some of the vegetables, as well as general knowledge,” said Amy Anderson, FFA adviser and agriculture teacher at Ocoee High. “It’s a written test and it can be over 20-something chapters of everything from soil to pH to varieties, seeds, diseases, all of that.”
“They have to go through actual step of aquaculture and troubleshooting, and they have to know diseases and pests in aquaculture,” said Travis Eisentraut, another FFA adviser and aquaculture teacher at Ocoee High. “Then they have a group competition where they’re given a problem about two to three weeks ahead of time and then they have to figure out a solution to that problem and present it at the competition.”
Each team consists of three or four students who work together to represent their FFA chapter. The competition days are long, and the preparation is hefty. Not only do students need to know their stuff, they also need to be able to apply that knowledge.
“Now it’s a lot of cramming, because before you were just pounding the general knowledge piece into their heads,” Anderson said. “It’s a short turnaround and you don't have a lot of time to get them there.”
For the vegetable-identification event at the state level, for example, students will have to go from station to station and complete different tasks. This could be identifying diseases and pests, or the varieties of vegetables. They also will have to judge different groups of vegetables and determine the best and worse ones.
“Honestly, looking at pictures and stuff doesn’t do it justice,” Anderson said. “You have to get out there and see the real deal for them to really get it. It’s a lot of taking them to different places and practice contests. Sometimes we’ll just go into the vegetable department at different stores and look at vegetables and identify them. It’s that real-world tie that we’re now getting into.”
Ocoee and Windermere high schools both qualified for aquaculture for the first time ever this year, so competition in this category will be new to both chapters. And while advisers and their students alike are excited to have made the cut to compete at the state level, the students have their studying cut out for them.
“A lot of our kids serve in leadership at the higher level, too,” said Amy Paterson, Windermere High’s FFA adviser and agriculture teacher. “I think people don't realize the vast amount of information these students have to know. It’s not one subject — it’s every part of anything that touches agriculture in any way.”
“They are connected to the earth so they understand how the earth works,” said Peter Jordan, another FFA adviser and agriculture teacher at Ocoee High, of his FFA students. “We’re a dying breed a lot of times with agriculture, so the further we get away from that the further we misunderstand one another. It’s really important. I think every student should be involved in agriculture, at least to be a better consumer and appreciate what we do on this planet.”