HARRISBURG, Pa. — “Between the secretary of education and myself, we at last give you a hall pass for this week,” Gov. Tom Corbett said as he addressed more than 6,000 Pennsylvania FFA members at the 85th FFA Mid-Winter Convention — a statement that received loud applause and cheering from the students.
Corbett stressed that education — and returning to school after the Farm Show — is important and that he feels the FFA is helping to grow the leaders of tomorrow.
“Take the FFA Creed. ... It’s a declaration of purpose meant to inspire you for the rest of your life,” Corbett said.
One line in the Creed reads “ I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others,’ he said. “That’s really the foundation for a good citizen. It’s really fitting that we find it in the FFA Creed because agriculture is the foundation for society.
“We need more of you (FFA members) to be involved (in things like government) and that’s what the FFA Creed explains. I encourage you to follow it,” he said.
Corbett said he believes those who can balance a farm budget or raise a prize animal are more than qualified to serve their communities in leadership roles.
“I want someone who knows and studies agriculture to become the next governor after me,” he said.
Agriculture Secretary George Greig echoed Corbett, telling attendees that the knowledge and expertise they gain from being involved in FFA will help them “build for the future,” this year’s state FFA motto.
“That’s very important because we need you to be more productive on less land for a growing population,” Greig said.
Pennsylvania “students are held to high standards, but that’s always been part of the FFA,” said state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq. “Ag education provides a well-rounded look at education through classes, supervised agricultural experiences and FFA.”
Held Monday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, the Mid-Winter Convention showcased the awards bestowed on FFA members — Star awards, Keystone Degrees, Honorary Keystone Degrees and the handing out of jackets to new members.
The highest award FFA members can achieve for their supervised agriculture experience, or SAE, record books is to be named the State Star in one of four categories.
During their FFA careers, members are asked to keep records on topics ranging from raising a market hog to working on their families’ dairy farms to owning their own landscape businesses.
Annually, each chapter picks its Star in each category — agricultural business, agricultural placement, agricultural production and agricultural science.
Once all the chapter Stars are chosen, they compete in their state regions. Ultimately, each of Pennsylvania’s four FFA regions picks its top Star in each category.
Those winners then come to Farm Show with the hope of being named the State Stars in their SAE categories. Earlier Monday, they went through interviews and their project books were evaluated.
During the Mid-Winter Convention, the State Stars are named and those winners will move on to the Eastern States Exposition in September to represent Pennsylvania with the hope of being named the Eastern U.S. Stars in their categories.
The State Star picked for agricultural placement is Jared Oman of Central Columbia FFA. The other three regional Stars are Kevin Heagy, Cedar Crest FFA; Chris Lerew, Bermudian Springs FFA; and Derek Boak, Laurel FFA.
Oman is the 17-year-old son of Mike and Tracey Oman. His SAE program consists of owning and operating his own lawn mowing and landscaping business, where he has 25 clients.
In the future, Oman plans to attend Pennsylvania College of Technology to major in landscaping and horticulture technology.
The State Star in agricultural placement is Graham Rhone of Central Columbia FFA. The other three regional Stars are Katie Hess, Penn Manor FFA; Danielle Delp, Williamsburg FFA; and Dustin Bicehouse, Wilmington FFA.
Rhone is the 18-year-old son of Brian and Cindy Rhone. He has two placement SAE programs — one as an employee at Pleasant View Farm and another as an employee at Weis Markets.
After high school, he plans to attend Penn State to major in wildlife and fisheries science to become a wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The State Star in agricultural production is Ruby Monn of Shippensburg FFA. The other three regional Stars are Gabrielle Smith, Tri-Valley FFA; Doug Boop, Mifflinburg FFA; and Jaclyn Thompson, Wilmington FFA.
Monn is the 17-year-old daughter of Rodney and Jennifer Monn. Her SAE programs consist of sheep, goat and beef finishing, as well as goat and beef production.
She has also kept a SAE record book on her involvement in the Pennsylvania Angus Association. In the future, she plans to become a certified veterinarian.
The State Star in agricultural science is Johnathan Noss of West Perry FFA. The other two regional Stars are Rachael Gagliardi, Lampeter Strasburg FFA; and Tony Rice, Midd-West FFA. There is no Star from the western region.
Noss is the 18-year-old son of Donna Hower and Jeffery Noss. His science fair project is on riparian buffers. He has competed in six science fairs with this project, earning three firsts and a National FFA Silver Award. Noss plans to obtain a degree in the medical field.
While those 15 Stars have been in FFA for some time, 356 other students got recognized for being first-year members. Each year, the Pennsylvania FFA Alumni Association awards official FFA jackets to first-year members who are state and national members, have completed applications and meet eligibility requirements.
Members must wear jackets to qualify for certain competitions, and purchasing them is no cheap task. To help open the doors of equality and opportunity, the Alumni Association purchases jackets for qualified students, and this year’s 356 recipients were presented with them during the convention.
The highest degree a Pennsylvania FFA member can receive is the Keystone Degree. This year, 351 students qualified for the honor, pushing the state total to more than 2,000 presented. These members are now eligible to apply for the American Degree, the highest award a National FFA member can receive.
Obtaining a Keystone Degree is no small accomplishment and the parents behind eight of these recipients received Honorary Keystone Degrees. This year marks the third time each of these parents have had a child receive the degree.
The parents are J. Marlin and Nancy Becker, Manheim FFA; Donald and Sherry Groff, Manor FFA; Tom and Cindy Ritchey, Central Cove FFA; Robert and Debbie Hartung, Conococheague FFA; Steven and Lucinda Donough, Juniata FFA; Durrell and Dawn Delp, Williamsburg FFA; Joe and Julie Mille, Penns Manor FFA; and John and Betsy Ratvasky, Wilmington FFA.
Four sets of parents also received the FFA Special Parent Award. Dean and Miriam Patches, Northern Lebanon FFA, and Gary and Venus Plessinger, Conococheague FFA, have each had four children receive a Keystone Degree. Ronald and Candace Wasson, Little Lions FFA, and George and Dixie Wilson, Wilmington FFA, have each had five children receive the degree.
Williamsport High School was also awarded its chapter declaration, symbolizing its induction as Pennsylvania’s newest FFA chapter, making 148 chapters in the state.