At the virtual Florida FFA State Celebration for 2019-2020, Brooksville Sr. FFA earned nearly 20 top honors in multiple categories, including Premier Chapter with special recognition in Growing Leaders, Building Communities and Strengthening Agriculture, and Florida’s Finest Chapter.
Rick Ahrens, Brooksville Sr. FFA Chapter Advisor and Agriscience/Veterinary Assistant Teacher at Hernando High School (where the chapter is based), was named Florida FFA’s FFA Advisor of the Year for 2020.
When listing these achievements, 38-year FFA veteran Ahrens lists his own honor last. He sees the act of teaching agriscience as “not a job, but a lifestyle.”
“This is all about the kids,” he says of the Future Farmers of America experience. “As honored as I am by the title, it made me cry when I saw my picture up there on the screen, the biggest reward is knowing that I’ve made a difference in these kids’ lives. Life, in general, is all about helping others. And when I get calls and texts from students who tell me I helped them, I know I made a difference.”
Through the years, Ahrens has looked on with pride as his students worked in the fields, claimed top honors in agriscience fairs, and conducted community service projects on behalf of homeless help programs, domestic violence shelters, and much more. Now Ahrens and his kids are taking their multi-award-winning chapter to the national level, where they will represent Florida FFA at the upcoming 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo, scheduled for Oct. 28-31.
“We are so successful due to the unbelievable support that is afforded my program and myself,” said Ahrens. “Plus, I’m blessed to get to work with the best kids on campus. Also, for the great support of my co-teacher, Miss Nelson for all her help during the year and all her work on the degree applications. These kids are our future and I feel great about it.”
Yet as much as the Brooksville FFA chapter looks forward to the future, their FFA experience is steeped in the past.
The Future Farmers of America, according to https://www.ffa.org/about/, “is a dynamic youth organization that changes lives and prepares members for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
It is the aim of FFA, founded in 1928, to develop member potential and help them discover their skills and talents through hands-on experience–thus lending the members the tools to achieve real-world success–growing to become agriculturalists, chemists, veterinarians, government officials, entrepreneurs, bankers, international business leaders, teachers and top-flight professionals in many other career fields (https://www.ffa.org/about/).
Yet at a time when the world lingers at a standstill, how do FFA students navigate a complicated present–let alone plan for a successful future?
In the case of the Brooksville Sr. FFA, they just keep going.
When it was announced that the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show would be canceled for this year, in requisite accordance with state recommended guidelines for gatherings over more than 10 people from the Center of Disease Control and other government agencies, FFA and 4-H kids found that they would have nothing to show for all of the hours, all of the dollars, that they had invested into the purchase, raising and training of animals that they had planned to show at the fair–in the process finding buyers and sponsors for these animals, that would give them the money needed to cover their costs, build their budgets for next year’s fair, and–in some cases–give them funds to set aside for college.
Deanna Naugler, 4-H leader at Pure Country, found a solution; one that took the form of her website Hernando County Livestock 4-H and FFA Fair Projects (https://hernandocountylivestock.webs.com/). Through this website, these students were able to list their animals for sale.
The Brooksville FFA students sold their animals, with many buying new ones in the interim.
“The Brooksville community stepped up to help these kids,” said Ahrens. “We really appreciate all of the community support.”
And the kids have stepped up to help themselves.
“We’ve been met with challenges this year,” said Alexandria Crane, a three-year member of Brooksville Sr. FFA who also serves as the club reporter. “But when you take the hard road, you get to the end through work and perseverance.”
As a group, Brooksville Sr. FFA has met this challenge by continuing to meet regularly online and (during the school year) attend virtual agriscience classes; participating in workshops, learning from state FFA officers who have served as guest speakers at their meetings. And they have continued to carry out the FFA mission of community service, practiced most recently through Meals in a Jar. During this activity, chapter members packaged jars with nutritious foods for those less fortunate in the Hernando community.
Crane has been making her own strides in FFA, winning Top 10 honors in the Alumni Essay Contest, and first place in the Div 5 Food category in the Agriscience Fair results of the Florida FFA State Celebration for 2019-2020. She has been tending plants and animals at home, studying public speaking and psychology, and continuing her duties as club reporter.
One aspect of FFA history that particularly interests Crane is the unique heritage of women in the organization.
“Women have only been allowed in FFA since 1969,” she noted. “Today’s FFA membership represents a much broader spectrum.”
This is evident in the makeup of the Brooksville Sr. FFA, which has a mixed membership and a majority of female members.
“There is no ‘man’s job,’ in this chapter,” she said. “We join together because we have a common interest and we work together toward common goals.”
Mary Babione would agree. She is in fact the president of Brooksville Sr. FFA and won third place in the Division 5 Plants category in the agriscience fair results of the virtual Florida FFA State Celebration.
“This year there were no in-person interviews,” she said. We had to turn in applications and essays, showing evidence of our methods, research, methods, and materials.”
This Hernando High School senior, also tending animals and plants at home, sees “keeping people involved” as the key to the success of her chapter in these trying times.
“We’ve been keeping up with meetings and community service,” said Babione. “We’ve found solutions and are planning for the future. It feels good to have this success.”
Both students credit Ahrens with his guidance and leadership, as well as other students in the chapter for their success. The chapter earned a 100% Membership Chapter (183 in-school members) honor at the Florida FFA State Celebration 2020. Additional Brooksville Sr. FFA members won the following honors:
JessiJo Palay-State Star Finalist in Agriscience
Madison Collins-State Star Finalist in Agriscience
Madison Collins was named State Star in Agriscience for Florida FFA
Florida FFA State Agriscience:
Div 3-Environmental-Nathanael Monroe-2nd place
Div 3-Food-Megan Beck-1st place
Div 3-Plants-Gabryela Erickson-1st place
Div 3-Power-William Miller-1st place
Div 5-Environmental-Alyssa Hunt-1st place
Div 5-Environmental-Adrianna Cueto-2nd place
Div 5-Environmental-Madison Collins-3rd place
Div 5-Food-Brach Jeppesen-2nd place
Div 6-Environmental-Tabatha Bingaman/Hailey Miller-2nd place
Also Competing, but not placing in top 3.
A number of students received their State FFA Degrees at the celebration:
Julius Holcomb III
Recommended to receive their American FFA Degrees were:
Through good times and challenges, labor and celebration, agricultural accomplishments and community service, Ahrens and the kids strive–every day and with every step–to fulfill and realize the FFA mission:
Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.