GREENVILLE — Thomas Shaw, the reigning Darke County Fair King, felt honored to be given the opportunity to visit Costa Rica with the National FFA Organization June 10-18.
“I was one of only 65-ish students and advisers from around the country who was granted this opportunity,” he said. “Ohio had the most representation with 10 students. Throughout my trip, we took time to educate ourselves on the agriculture industry in Costa Rica as well as tour the tropical area.”
He said the trip was part of a Stars and Proficiency seminar trip he won.
“I was selected in May 2014 as the state winner for an agricultural communications proficiency award,” he said. “All the applications were Supervised Agricultural Experience(SAE)-based. My SAE was working at WTGR Radio and with Ohio Ag Net. Once I won the state, my application was forwarded to the national competition, where I was selected as the top four in the country. Throughout the interview process, with a panel of 12 judges, I was chosen one of the four to attend the Costa Rica trip.”
He went on, “Ohio was pretty lucky. Ohio had 25 national finalists and 10 went, as did four Ohio advisers. “
Shaw said he traveled with Marie (Rhoades) Gariety, formerly of Versailles, and now FFA adviser at Miami East High School, who was headed to the event with two of her students.
“It was my first time traveling internationally,” Shaw said. “We flew into Miami where we met the other participants. We spent one evening in Miami before flying out to San Jose, Costa Rica.”
He said their trip was focused on learning about the diversity of other agricultural industries.
“We had the opportunity to visit the Doka coffee plantation, which was awarded the best of coffee two years ago,” he said. “It provides coffee to Starbucks and has been in production over 70 years. It’s in Sabanilla, Alajuela.”
He said the group also visited a Dole banana farm, a pineapple plantation, a beef cattle farm and his favorite, a dairy farm.
“Many of the bananas we saw there are imported from countries like Costa Rica,” Shaw said. “It takes 18 days to get produce from Costa Rica to the United States. I had my share of bananas and Roswitha brand pineapples. I’m fruited out. It was amazing fruit.”
He said the beef cattle farm they visited provides the most premium beef in that country.
“It is the best beef,” said Shaw, who will turn 19 on Oct. 1. “It has the best cuts in all of Costa Rica. It was high quality, amazing meat.”
At the dairy farm, there were more than 600 head of cattle.
“It is one of the largest in Costa Rica,” he said. “What was unique about the whole experience is how similar things were to the American way of farming.”
He said the trip saw them constantly moving throughout the country.
“We got to see the Central Valley and the volcanoes up in the mountains,” he said. “We did the sky walk. We hiked 2.2 miles into part of the Arenal Volcano. We walked over bridges 200 feet above ground. It was scary, but I did it. I’m terrified of heights. It makes me more appreciative of where I’m from.”
He also got to do some whitewater rafting on the Farapiqui River and loved that.
“We visited the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and hiked through the rain forest and visited the waterfalls,” he said. ” It was quite stunning to see. We also saw native animals, such as the sloth, cougars and lots of monkeys. Butterflies and hummingbirds were also nice to see.”
Shaw said he experienced the ocean for the first time on this trip.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was a little different. There was so much open water. I went snorkeling. I love swimming.”
According to him, they had two tour guides with them since it’s a Spanish-speaking country.
Shaw said he blogged every day of the trip.
“We had food all day long,” he said. “They eat three meals a day and they’re not little meals. There is lots of rice and beans; that’s their culture. There was chicken, pork and beef. Every dinner had a salad.”
Even though high-tech machinery is found there, Shaw said it is considered a Third World country.
“It was said $15,000 is the average income; however that’s all they need,” he said. “They don’t have a military and their health care expenses are nowhere near what we have to pay. They focus all their money toward education.”
Probably one of the busiest young people around, Shaw is now interning with Harvest Land-Co-op as a field tech based out of Pitsburg. In the fall, he will be returning to Wilmington College as a sophomore, majoring in ag ed and ag communications.
“I had a great first year in college,” he said. “I was a state fair officer and still maintained the dean’s list both semesters without a problem. Last year I messed a month of school because of being a state officer, but I was still able to complete all my assignments and work with all my professors.”
He has also become an adviser for his 4-H club, Grade A Kids, and is finishing up his year as fair king. He will be at the pageant on July 14 at the All Seasons Place.
In high school, he was in Greenville FFA all four years, and will be receiving his American Degree in October. His SAE projects are ag communications, dairy production, poultry production and goat production. He was an FFA officer for three years; the first year as treasurer and the other two as vice president.
“When I graduated high school, I lost a lot of my activities, but I’ve replaced those with more professional development things,” Shaw said. “I am getting involved with Farm Bureau, am a 4-H adviser and now Greenville FFA and state alumnis.”
He has met hundreds of people being a state FFA officer.
“The connections I’ve made throughout state is unbelievable,” he said. “I met a kid in Missouri who with his brother own the largest, non-commercial, free-range chickens. They farm plus have the birds. He started it all by himself with six chickens he was given in exchange for work by his grandfather.”
Shaw said he definitely wants to stay in the Miami Valley when he graduates from college.
“The industry here is so bright and so much can happen,” said the son of Greg and Darlene Grubbs and Bruce Shaw.
The trip to Costa Rica, he said, was 1o0 percent paid for.
“Without sponsors it wouldn’t be possible,” he said. “My sponsors were Bader Rutter and Red Brand Fence. Any FFA student can do it if they want to. All it takes is a simple application.”
Linda Moody can be reached by calling direct at 937-569-4315. Be her friend on Facebook by searching her name. For more features online, go to advocate360.org or “like” The Daily Advocate on Facebook by searching Advocate360.