HARRISBURG, Pa. — So what’s Casey Shawver’s favorite part of the FFA Mid-Winter Convention?
“I really enjoy the Keystones because all of those students have worked at least four years to get that degree,” said the current FFA president.
For state sentinel Sean Jones, it’s all good.
“It’s the greatest opportunity anybody could experience,” he said of the convention.
And with that, weeks of preparation and hours of rehearsing culminated into a roughly two-hour rally of FFA during the organization’s annual Mid-Winter Convention, which was held Monday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Thousands of youths in blue jackets packed the Large Arena for the convention, which included remarks from state ag officials and other guests, including state Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.
For the thousands of FFA members in the arena, it was a welcome day off school to take in the sights, sounds and, of course, smells of the Farm Show.
But the convention, is more than just celebrating not having to go to class.
More than 300 FFA members received blue jackets, and more than 300 others received their Keystone Degrees.
Four regional state stars were awarded plaques and will now go on to compete at the Eastern States Exposition, or Big E, next September.
Matt Bishop from the Eastern Lebanon County School District got the state star in agricultural business.
Makayla Hawbaker from South Huntingdon School District beat out three others to earn the state star in agricultural placement.
Michala Kuhlman, representing the Northeast Bradford School District, beat out three others to earn the state star in agricultural production.
And Megan Campbell of the Conrad Weiser School District beat out two others to earn the state star in agricultural science.
Ten sets of parents received honorary Keystone Degrees for having at least three youngsters in their family earn past Keystone Degrees.
Another five sets of parents received the “special parent award,” for having four or more youngsters get the Keystone Degree.
They included Harold and Ann Kauffman, whose five children were members of the Cloister FFA.
Harold Kauffman, a former FFA member himself, said it was important seeing his children become FFA members.
“Just for the leadership and they get to mingle with other people. We come from not that big of a city or anything, and I think that really helps them,” he said.
Shawver said the state officers rehearsed for days before the convention, memorizing scripts and finalizing last-minute changes.
“The team and I have probably been rehearsing for a good five days to get everything perfect to show our members the best show we can,” she said.
Penny Brammer, wife of Mike Brammer, executive manager of the state FFA, said the organization has gone through its share of challenges over the years, including going from an 11-officer team to seven state officers.
“They have more things to do. They rely on past members to come back and help with things. It’s a challenge to get things up in the morning, but we work well,” she said.
Having been involved in FFA for the past 12 years, she said it’s as healthy as ever, with more youngsters wanting to become members, including many from more urban areas.
“I think the kids are really getting into our environment and agriculture, and they want to make sure they’re prepared for the future,” she said. “Our young people are more interested even than our generation was in trying to do things the better way. They know they have to feed more people, with less land, and they’re really interested in finding new ways to do that.”