| One man’s pigpen is Emily Heuer’s treasure |
Her older sister seemed to have fun in Future Farmers of America raising hogs, so Emily Heuer felt she would have fun as well. Yet, at the close of her fourth year with the agriculture program, Emily discovered she not only gained memorable times with others but acquired meaningful lessons of patience, responsibility, and confidence through caring for a hog.
“I would describe FFA as a learning experience for everyone no matter your background, as everyone is accepted to it. It is a fun time, and there are a broad range of competitions and activities to learn from and take part in,” she says. The lesson-filled journey she has taken with all four of her hogs has prepared her for where she will go next in college as well as in life.
Not just hog-raising
Emily joined FFA her freshmen year, choosing her first hog Sonny Ray the same year from the 100 hogs brought in by her agriculture teacher, James Sweeney, from different states. “You want to look for hogs with straight backs and easygoing personalities. You also want to see how they walk, which we learned in agriculture class my sophomore year,” Emily recalls.
The students, through their agriculture class, learn how to care for the hog as well as show their hogs in exhibits and fairs from August to January when the hogs are sold. “You have to regularly work with your hog every day so your hog can know you and have that bond with you during the show or exhibit,” she states.
Encouraging her bond with her hogs is adding Ray to each of the hogs’ last names after the success of her first hog Sonny Ray. Judging from her fifth-place Showmanship award at this year’s Polk County Youth Fair as well as being named Grand Reserve Champion in her FFA class, Emily definitely formed a bond with her hog, Maybelle Ray.
“I was the only person in my school that was picked for Showmanship this year, so I represented my school well and was glad I ended with a bang since this is my senior year,” she explains.
Connecting with her hogs is not the only bond Emily has created in her time with FFA. Over the years she has made several new friends through the program, from fellow classmates to those from different schools, which she probably would not have gotten the chance to do otherwise.
“My best friend, Gabby Benson, and I met over raising hogs in the same pen and we’re still best friends today. The people I’ve met through FFA I can’t replace, as they are great friends of all backgrounds and I know we’ll be friends for a long time,” she concludes.
The lessons and friends she’s gained over the four years with FFA have helped prepare Emily for her next step – attending Florida State University this fall to study abuse and mental illness therapy. It will be another worthwhile experience to have, just as with FFA, that will yield valuable knowledge Emily will cherish always.
story by BLAIR TOWNLEY