NEW BREMEN — Carving turkeys for Thanksgiving or collecting toys for Christmas are part of the giving season and represent year-round community service projects for the Future Farmers of America chapter at New Bremen High School.
Under the tutelage of Maria Homan, science and agriculture teacher and the FFA adviser, New Bremen students’ service helped them recently bring home a host of individual and chapter awards from the national FFA convention in Indianapolis.
New Bremen earned a Three-Star Chapter accolade, plus five individual awards presented at the national convention of 67,000 young FFA members. Homan had taught all the award winners for their four years of high school.
Sierra Drewes was the national winner of the Agricultural Sales Proficiency Award, which she had pursued and documented for two years as an intern at the Koenig Equipment lawn and garden outlet in Botkins.
“My grandfather worked here for 32 years, so I’ve hung around Koenig all my life,” Drewes said. “Now I work here full time when I’m not going to classes.” She graduated from NBHS in 2015 and is a sophomore at the lake campus of Wright State University in Celina. Drewes is majoring in agriculture with a focus on the business aspects of farming and equipment.
Drewes and three other New Bremen graduates earned American FFA Degrees the highest honor that FFA presents to members. Mitchell Kramer was a national finalist last year in the hog farming category though he doesn’t live on a farm. Mitchell Brown’s project was in dairy, and Molly Paul specialized in equine studies. NBHS grad Nicholas Gusching was awarded an FFA Degree last year.
Homan said students’ projects are a two-year process. They apply and compete on the state level the first year, then each of the 50 states forward one entry for national-level judging. Ultimately, four finalists are invited to the national convention, where they’re interviewed and give a speech that is judged before the winner is announced.
New Bremen’s Three-Star award recognized being in the top 7 percent of FFA’s 8,500 chapters. To earn three-star status, Homan explained, “You must have nine projects — we had 13 — such as the Thanksgiving and Christmas programs and two blood drives. The students also are required to do fund-raisers, promote agriculture and create programs to improve their ag-education experience.”
Homan’s teaching is rooted in her life of farming experience in the area. Homan, 29, grew up on a farm in Versailles raising grain and steers and was a state FFA officer. She and her husband, Gregg, milk cows and raise hogs near Carthagena. She leads her 50-plus students sponsoring Agriculture Day visits to local schools.
For “city kids” especially who may have never touched a farm animal, “We bring in livestock animals to have kind of a petting zoo.” Homan said. “We tell them (elementary and junior high schoolers) what the animals are and what they produce.”
And for some hands-on experience among her high school students, “We went on a field trip to Amish country in Indiana, to a horse breeding farm to see how they operate without electricity.”
The chapter’s Thanksgiving outreach also included side-dish cooking to prepare meals for disabled and respite care people through Mercer Residential Services in Celina and Van Wert. Building toward Christmastime, students have worked all year to collect toys for Children’s Hospital in Dayton.
“We’re usually able to collect about 1,000 toys — coloring books, crayons, small cars and the like — for kids coming to Children’s for surgery or are hospitalized during the holidays,” Homan said. “We’re fortunate to live in a community that is able to give, and the (New Bremen) students were surprised to learn that our collection of 1,000 toys only lasts about a month.”
FFA claims to be the largest youth group organization in the United State, having members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. There are 25,000 members in Ohio in 314 chapters.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.