Area FFA members attend National Convention in Indianapolis
An educational tour at koi fish and shrimp farms, a visit to a unique horse racing track and opportunities to meet new people and learn new things were among the highlights that eight members of the Marshall FFA chapter got to experience recently as they joined more than 67,000 FFA members, supporters and guests who attended the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“It’s fun to get off the bus and see Indianapolis just covered in FFA jackets,” Marshall FFA adviser Emma Hoversten said. “Some people call it the ‘Blue Plague’ because there are so many people there.”
The Marshall FFA members — all seniors — traveled to the annual convention with students from the Tracy Area and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton FFA chapters.
“It was a really good trip,” Marshall FFA President Mary Sundquist said. “It wasn’t long enough, though.”
Along with Sundquist, Owen Banks, Kaleb Bossuyt, Kaylee Hoflock, Brandon Karsten, Ben Neuman, Samantha Philips and Jasard Schreifels represented the Marshall FFA chapter in Indianapolis.
“There were record-breaking numbers attending this year,” Sundquist said. “I also heard that Minnesota had the highest number of attendance for all the states.”
Sundquist especially enjoyed the tours at a koi fish facility and shrimp farm.
“They raised koi fish and goldfish at the farm we toured,” she said. “They raise them for commercial sale, like for pet stores. They have millions of fish. They actually have some outdoor tanks and we got to pick the fish up. They people thought that would be neat for us to get to do that. I thought they’d swim away when I tried to touch them, but they weren’t too scared.”
Sundquist added that they learned about the different kinds and sizes of fish they raised at Ozark Fisheries, Inc.
“The koi fish come in all different colors — like the ones you see in tanks at restaurants,” she said. “They sell for different prices depending on the type and size.”
Marshall senior Kaleb Bossuyt also felt the koi fish tour was a highlight for him.
“When we pulled up and looked out, there were nothing but ponds as far as you could see for at least a half mile,” Bossuyt said. “It had to be farther than that, though, because they have 237 ponds and the average one is an acre in size. It was cool to see a different way of a crop being harvested other than what we see around here.”
The FFA members from Marshall, RTR and Tracy Area also had the opportunity to learn a lot about the process of raising shrimp when they toured RDM Aquaculture, which was started in July 2010.
“The RDM farm was in the middle of nowhere and is one of the first shrimp farms developed,” Sundquist said. “They helped set up 30 different ones around the country and world now. I mentioned Ralco, and they said they were more on the commercial side of things.”
Sundquist noted that RDM typically has shrimp of all sizes but had been affected by the unusual and destructive hurricane activity this year.
“There were no baby ones because of all the hurricanes happening,” she said. “Their suppliers for baby shrimp got wiped out. But they had bigger ones.”
RDM Aquaculture claims to have the freshest seafood for 600 miles.
“They’ve perfected different methods of raising the shrimp by changing bacterial levels and temperatures,” Sundquist said. “They use swimming pools, so you see PVC pipes all over. And they actually use air stones for their water movement, so instead of big bubbles, they have a lot of little ones. It was cool seeing all the different technology.”
Sundquist said she and the other students really had fun during the fish and shrimp tours, but that they also learned a lot in the process
“I learned that agriculture is always changing, developing and growing,” she said. “There’s definitely a future in aquaponics and marine production — the ag industry in general is always growing and advancing.”
Hoversten said the Minnesota students had a great time at a horse racing track during their free time as well.
“That was a lot of fun,” she said. “Instead of having the jockeys on the horses, it was two-wheeled cart raising. I’d never seen that in person and most of the students hadn’t either. It was pretty sweet.”
Hoversten said that the FFA members also spent quite a bit of time at the convention.
“We went to the career fair and we also watched different leadership sessions,” Hoversten said. “There were workshops available, too, but most of our kids attended the career fair.”
While the FFA sessions were held about a block away, nearly all of the other activities took place in one location.
“Most were in the same building under the same roof,” Sundquist said. “We got to go down to the market and buy different FFA things, like cowboy boots, bull whips — you could pretty much find anything there. The first day we were there for a couple of hours and we didn’t even make it all the way through.”
A large number of colleges, universities, organizations and companies were also in attendance.
“They were giving out free T-shirts, pens and all sorts of other things, like hats, handbags, fidget spinners — everything you can think of — that could help represent them,” Sundquist said.
Sundquist noted that Southwest Minnesota State University, South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota were among the many higher education institutions at the national convention. The Hall of State, meant to showcase America’s agricultural diversity, was also popular.
“The Hall of States is where you can learn about each state, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” she said. “You could learn about each state as a whole, how their FFA functions and about different opportunities. Hawaii showed how papayas grow and Wisconsin let you taste different kinds of cheese.”
The local FFA students also had the opportunity to support a fellow Minnesotan — Valerie Earley — who served as the National FFA Central Region vice president.
“She gave her retiring address for the year, so we got to see that and support her as Minnesota FFA members,” Sundquist said. “We all sat by each other, so she knew there were a lot of us there.”
Hoversten said Earley used different types of visuals to send a message that it’s OK to be yourself.
“I actually went to college with Valerie, so I know her well,” Hoversten said. “She had some paintings with different backgrounds that she used to talk about different perspectives.”
Hoversten explained that the first painting had a black background.
“She told a story about an FFA member who had a tough upbringing — her parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol,” Hoversten said. “She was kind of on a rough road. So as she talked, she added more to the painting, including some trees. It represented the perspective of seeing the beauty in her even though she had a background.”
A second painting was representative of another student who had a good childhood before heading down a destructive road.
“He began being dysfunctional and was not happy with himself,” Hoversten said. “So (Earley) made horizontal lines and talked about changing perspectives. She ended up making a beautiful fall scene.”
The third painting represented a young woman who also had a functional upbringing, but then things changed in middle school and high school.
“Her life was very normal until her friend groups changed,” Hoversten said. “She started to cover up different parts of herself. (Earley) took white lines to cover up different parts — parts that were beautiful but other people didn’t want to see. Then other people realized what she was doing and talked to her. She became conscious of it and realized she was beautiful and that she didn’t have to cover up for people you want to impress. You should be yourself. It was a really impactful speech.”
Ag education and FFA is all about learning and exploring. The Pride in the Tiger Foundation understands that as they supported the national convention opportunity in the form of a grant for the Marshall students to attend.
“They saw the value in it, so we really appreciate that,” Hoversten said.
Bossuyt said the local students not only got to take in the experience, but that they also got to share some of it with complete strangers.
“Ben (Neuman) and I were just hanging out when two guys walked up to us and asked us why we were dressed the same,” he said. “We explained who we were and what we did. It was cool to educate someone else on our organization. They were dumbfounded and said they hadn’t seen anything like it.”
Bossuyt attended the national FFA convention when he was a freshman. He’s glad he had the opportunity to attend again this year.
“It was in Louisville then, so it’s been nice to be able to experience different venues, different cities,” he said. “Both cities were crowded — there were 67,000 visitors in Indianapolis. You need a big place to accommodate all the people — and what they’re going to eat and where they’re going to stay. It was packed everywhere you went.”
Bossuyt said he didn’t mind the chaos — he actually enjoyed all the different groups of people.
“It was sort of nice to see people from every single state,” Bossuyt said. “It was cool to see everyone else there at a nationwide event.”
The Marshall FFAers had a blast at an indoor water park on the way down to the convention. While they didn’t attend the concert this year, they ended up going to the Cinch World’s Toughest Rodeo, where one of the things they got to witness was a man jumping over a large bull, instead.
During some down time, the local students got to bond and make memories.
“We had some hotel time to bond with each other and with people in different chapters,” Sundquist said. “It was a fun way for all of us seniors to hang out one last time. We did a lot of card playing and we just hung out and talked.”
While this year marks the end of national convention participation for the seniors, it is possible for any of them to return, but it would be as an adviser, chaperone or student teacher.
“I hope that I eventually can go back as an adviser,” said Sundquist, who plans to seek a degree in ag education.
One thing is for sure — the students all got something out of the trip.
“I really enjoyed seeing all the different booths and the new technology in agriculture,” Bossuyt said. “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”