West Orange High School’s FFA program has a national championship under its belt for the first time in school history — as well as in the history of Orange County Public Schools.
Former FFA adviser Kristy Lightbody is amazed at what the team of four — consisting of Kaley Henderson, Marissa Romeu, Sarah Lewis and Cate Solomon — has accomplished.
“They have worked so hard in and out of the classroom over the past two years preparing for this amazing achievement and rocked it like the amazing superstars they are,” she said.
The National FFA Food Science and Technology Career Development Event was held during the third session of the 96th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis.
The top 10 individuals and the national winning team members received cash awards to recognize their success in the event.
The Food Science and Technology CDE is designed to test a student's basic knowledge of food science as well as the student's ability to apply this knowledge to practical
situations. Each team participates in a timed team product development project, and each individual participates in practicums involving food sensory evaluation and food safety and sanitation as well as a written exam.
This event was held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.
The WOHS winners also won a trip to Atlanta in late January for the International Processing and Production Expo through the U.S. Poultry Association.
The foursome competed at the state level in February. For the national competition, they had to create a new food product as a team. Lightbody said they were given basic information on the day of the competition and had to formulate the nutrition label and allergy information, as well as have a profit margin, ingredient statement and marketing strategies.
They also had to create a flow diagram of the actual processing of the individual ingredients in their product and come up with the packaging materials and design.
This year’s product development activity was a hot chocolate charcuterie board, made with chocolate powder, sugar base, milk powder and various toppings relating to the target audience.
For the team product, Romeu handled processing, Henderson worked on math and nutrition, and Solomon and Lewis worked on the marketing and product display panel.
The competition includes a safety component, as well, in which participants must determine if something is a quality issue or a safety issue.
“They have to do math questions they have to do conversions and calculate cost and shrinkage of a product, like dehydrated meat,” Lightbody said. “It’s an insane amount they actually had to learn, and a lot of it they have to put into effect.”
Teams also had to participate in a sensory panel, in which they were given unidentified scents used as food additives and had to name them. In the second portion, they had to take part in a triangle taste test and determine which of the three items was different.
“I think one of the coolest parts about this team is how much they think outside of the box,” Lightbody said. “When we’ve practiced these things before, I gave them some apple juice and Sarah … used all of her senses, not just sight, taste and smell, she also used touch to determine the viscosity of the liquid.”
The team practice weekly, and Lightbody gave them different scenarios to practice.
“The students very early on established their roles,” she said. “They were all very proficient with their individual roles, but they were so great at picking up where another one left off. …They are the most fluent team I’ve ever worked with.”
“Representing Florida was already such an immense honor for me because of my love for this Career Development Event, so walking the stage at the National Convention in front of thousands of blue jackets, with this passionate and loving team, was a surreal moment that I will never forget,” Romeu said.
This is Romeu’s fifth year with FFA. The junior is the West Orange chapter’s student advisor and previously held positions as reporter and president. She has participated in various speaking events and other Career Development Events and exhibited many different types of livestock.
“My favorite part of FFA is the connections I have made throughout the years, whether it be industry experts, college representatives, other chapters or the members in my home chapter who have become a part of my family,” Romeu said. “I have been able to share my knowledge and passion with younger students and have the opportunity for experiences I would not have through any other organization.
“Agriculture will forever be the future of the world, and to say I have and will have a small impact on securing that future is more than I could ever ask for,” Romeu said.
In her senior year, she hopes to campaign for Florida FFA state office.
“I want to become that impactful connection for other members in the state of Florida that has had a lasting effect on my agriculture journey,” she said.
After high school, she plans to shift from agriculture to the medical field, where she wants to become an anesthesiologist so she can financially support the small beef cattle operation she hopes to run.
Henderson is a four-time state champion and has competed in Food Science since she was in middle school. She is a senior at West Orange and president of the school chapter.
This is her seventh year with FFA, and she has served in a leadership capacity since her second year. She also serves on the Orange County FFA Federation officer team as president.
“I tried my best to not have the stress get to me, and I came into the contest with a positive mindset, being content with just doing the best that I can at that moment,” Henderson said. “It just brings me so much joy knowing that our team was able to accomplish such an impressive feat.”
She wants to pursue degrees in plant science and entomology.
“I then want to use these degrees to implement urban agriculture practices in metropolitan areas, providing these communities an easier access to fresh produce as well as connect them closer to agriculture,” Henderson said.
Solomon also has competed in Food Science since middle school and is a four-time state champion.
“This really has been such a full-circle moment for me, because Food Science was the first CDE that started me off in FFA in sixth grade, and now to win a national championship for it my senior year, it’s really special,” Solomon said.
This is Solomon’s seventh year of FFA, and she serves as the WOHS chapter’s vice president.
Although she’s not sure of her college major, she said the skills and lessons she learned through FFA will remain with her for life.
“I love the connections and people you can meet through FFA,” Solomon said. “This organization has allowed me to meet individuals from my chapter that I would consider to be my second family. Even outside of my local chapter, FFA has allowed me to meet individuals from all around the state and the nation.”
“I feel a great sense of achievement to be on a national championship team,” Lewis said. “Being able to accomplish our goals is very astounding.”
In the team product development portion of the competition, she created the packaging and marketing and then presented with her teammates.
“Our goal was to go in and have a lot of fun so I didn’t stress myself too much, and it really benefited us in the end,” Lewis said. “Working with my close-knit team was the best part.”