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Windom FFA boasts national champion team, proficiency winner

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The Windom FFA Chapter is celebrating some significant wins after five of its members returned home from the 89th annual National FFA Convention in Indianapolis this past weekend with top honors.

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The Windom FFA Chapter’s Food Science Team took top honors in its Career Development Event. Shown from left are Windom FFA Chapter Advisor Darcy Dahna, Dakota Scott, Natalie Resch, Eliza Ford and Lindsay Muller. (Special to the Daily Globe)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The Windom FFA Chapter is celebrating some significant wins after five of its members returned home from the 89th annual National FFA Convention in Indianapolis this past weekend with top honors.

Spencer Wolter, who was elected president of the Minnesota FFA Association this spring, earned first place proficiency in agriculture mechanics design and fabrication, entrepreneurship/placement, while Windom FFA’s Food Science team took first-place honors in its Career Development event. Team members included Dakota Scott, who garnered seventh place individually, Eliza Ford, Natalie Resch and Lindsay Muller. As the winning team, each of the four individuals received a $1,000 cash prize and an expense-paid trip to the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga., in late January.

A spring graduate of Windom High School, Wolter was selected one of four national finalists in the ag mechanics design and fabrication proficiency after completing a 38-page application detailing the work he has done at Toro in Windom since he was hired at age 14.

At the National FFA Convention last Thursday, Wolter presented a two-minute introduction before a panel of nine judges and then fielded questions from the group for 15 minutes. The questions focused primarily on Wolter’s research to improve efficiencies at Toro - particularly in the new warehouse recently completed for the manufacturer in Windom’s Industrial Park.

“My job was to keep track of all of the different parts,” Wolter said, adding that he assisted in designing a system that combined a tablet, bluetooth keyboard and scanner. “I was doing a lot of research - self-motivated, self-determined tasks.”

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Wolter was back Monday on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, where he is a freshman majoring in animal science. He hopes to become a large animal veterinarian.

As a national finalist, Wolter received $500, plus an additional $1,000 as the national proficiency winner. Those funds will go toward his college education.

“The other three individuals had absolutely phenomenal jobs as well,” Wolter said of the other finalists for the national award. Those finalists included an FFA member from California who built chicken cages for a company; an FFA member from Oklahoma who helped build steel buildings and an FFA member from Ohio who worked with machinery on the family farm.

A team effort

The Windom FFA Food Science and Technology team bested 34 other teams from across the country to bring home a national championship Saturday. Taking the top honor was the reward for months of practice and dedication.

The team took on a bit different look for the national contest after Wolter, who was on the team when it earned first place at the Minnesota FFA Convention this spring, couldn’t participate. He was going to be too busy at the national convention as a state FFA officer and his competition in the ag mechanics design and fabrication proficiency.

Windom FFA Advisor Darcy Dahna approached then-freshman Lindsay Muller on the final day of school this spring to invite her to be the fourth person on the national-bound team.

“I was so excited,” recalled Muller, who attended the national convention for the first time in her FFA career. “It was so much fun. It really was such a new experience for me.”

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While Muller may have been a newcomer to the national convention, teammate Natalie Resch was a four-peat CDE competitor at the national convention. Her previous appearances included Farm Business Management CDE as a freshman, Floriculture as a sophomore and Agronomy as a junior.

“I feel like a veteran, but this was the contest I was most nervous for,” said Resch on Monday, who was back on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. She is majoring in agriculture education and applied economics.

She, along with her teammates, said practice and working together as a team helped them reach the national championship.

“There was prep throughout the whole summer,” said Eliza Ford, now a senior at Windom High School. “We would try to get together every week to practice.”

They would study past state and national Food Science CDE quizzes and practice smelling different aromas to help prepare them for the contest, which included a 50-question exam, individual practicum identifying scents and flavors and a team activity to develop a food product with provided ingredients, as well as a nutrition label, safety plan and marketing program.

For their team activity, Windom junior Scott said the team developed a trail mix they dubbed “Pure Nature” to market to individuals ages 18 to 34.

“We had almonds, pumpkin seeds, banana chips, M&Ms and cranberries,” said Ford of the mix. Each team member had a different role in developing the product. Muller decided what went into the mix with input from team members, while Scott worked on the nutrition facts, Ford developed the marketing plan and packaging, and Resch did the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points work to ensure the food complied with safety requirements.

“We did really well in the team portion,” Scott said, noting they had just one hour to develop the product and create the nutrition label, marketing plan and safety plan.

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Despite their confidence after the contest, the team members were surprised to learn they’d garnered first place - especially after seeing that the Texas team had two individuals place in the Top 10. They believe their team exercise set them apart from the others.

As the first-place team, each of the four members received a plaque and a $1,000 cash prize. A team plaque was also awarded for the school to display.

While Resch is now at college, Scott, Muller and Ford plan to continue their quest for success in the FFA, focusing their efforts now on the floriculture CDE team. They will do so with FFA Advisor Dahna leading them.

“Dahna was there every single practice helping us improve and keeping us focused,” said Resch of her advisor.

“I think FFA is just the greatest organization with its youth leaders and its ag-based culture,” noted Ford. “It’s just amazing.”

Career Development Events

In addition to the Food Science and Technology team from Windom, six other area teams competed in Career Development Events during the convention. Each contest tests an FFA member’s knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge to real-life situations through problem-solving activities.

Agronomy: Jackson County Central FFA, eighth place. Team members included Jacob Christopher, Sarah Holmberg (ninth individual), Lane Hansen and Ross Vonohlen. Participants' knowledge of agronomic sciences was tested through several levels of competition including developing solutions for problematic scenarios; identification of seeds, insects, soil and crops and other management practices.

Farm Business Management: Mountain Lake FFA, gold emblem. Team members included Jareya Harder (seventh individual), Andrew Fast, Sam Grev and Michael Watkins. The contest is designed to test the ability of students to apply economic principles and concepts in analyzing farm and ranch business management decisions. Participants respond to questions concerning economic principles in farm business management as well as a problem-solving analysis section.

Job Interview: Ana Dunlavey, Jackson County Central FFA, silver emblem.
Livestock Evaluation: Jackson County Central FFA, gold emblem. Team members included Jon Handzus, Josh Ulbricht, Carter Johnson and Ethan Varilek. In this contest, components include eight evaluation classes of beef, sheep, swine and goats; oral placement reasons on four classes; and a written exam on livestock production. A team activity, utilizing reproductive and marketing information, demonstrates the teams livestock selection ability.
Meats Evaluation and Technology: Pipestone Area FFA, eighth place. Team members included Mitchell Bobendrier, Carter Colemer, Hannah Berg and Karla Nelson. This contest tests students’ skills and competencies in evaluating and identifying meat carcasses and products. Event components include a general knowledge exam; beef carcass evaluation; identification of wholesale and retail cuts of beef, lamb, and pork; quality and yield grading of beef carcasses; a team meat merchandising event; and solving of a meat formulation problem.

Veterinary Science: Mountain Lake, bronze emblem. Team members included Rebekah Klassen, Bailey Leaman, Liana Blomgren and Kalley Rempel.

Additional honors

  • Area students earning their American FFA Degree were Rylan Baumhoefner, Brett Cuperus, Suzanne Pagel, Thomas Salentiny and Laura Williams of Fulda FFA; Josh Fast and Caleb Rempel of Mountain Lake FFA; and Andrew Brockshus, Dalton Frick, Devin Hoekstra and Mackenzie Schindler of Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA.

  • Minnesota Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) was presented the Honorary American FFA Degree during a special ceremony Friday morning during the fourth general session of the National FFA Convention.

  • Benjamin Freking, Jackson County Central, was a national finalist in the Agri Science Fair in Animal Systems Division II (Grade 10, 11 or 12).

  • Ruben Fentanez and David Hall, Mountain Lake FFA, represented Minnesota in the National FFA Chorus.
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