Florida Beef Ambassador Hopes to Get More Youth Involved in Industry
by CATHERINE CERVONE
For many teens, the end of high school is about prom, graduation and other senior traditions. McKettrick McKettrick has a few other things on her mind.
McKettrick is a senior at DeSoto County High School finishing out the last few months of her high school career. Though much of her classwork had been moved online due to COVID-19, she definitely hasn’t had a lax semester.
In August 2019, McKettrick competed and won the Florida Beef Ambassador role in the senior division. This was her third time in the competition, with the previous two years being in the junior division.
McKettrick was born in Kansas and moved to Alachua, Florida, when she was young. Her grandparents owned a stockyard in Arcadia and eventually McKettrick ’s family relocated there, where the family has stayed since. Now her father runs the business, with help from the rest of the family, including her oldest brother Max. “Max is learning the ins and outs of the stockyard,” McKettrick said.
McKettrick keeps pretty busy, involved with many activities at school, serving her role as Florida Beef Ambassador, and giving tours at the stockyard. At school, she plays volleyball, serves as president of her high school sorority and a member of the student union and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and helps out with many of the senior events.
One of her favorite clubs is Junior Leadership DeSoto, a leadership club that features members from all across the school. Each group gets the chance to tour DeSoto County and see different career opportunities for people who want to stay in the area after graduation.
They had a class on public speaking, which McKettrick said helped her tremendously during her competition for Florida Beef Ambassador, and even afterward. As chair of the SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) team at her school, she got to speak to county commissioners in their board meeting about licensing for smoking. Getting to talk to people of power, especially at her age, about ways to keep her friends and other students safe was an important moment, one where she relied heavily on her public speaking skills. She was glad she got the opportunity to go.
McKettrick is also involved in the DeSoto chapter of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). She’s been in the club since sixth grade, which is the youngest you can start, and now currently serves as president of the chapter. McKettrick mentioned that her teacher helps the students broaden their futures and careers by meeting many different people from the community. “(The chapter) has great community support,” McKettrick said.
Her work with FFA and her other older brother Riley actually had a lot to do with how McKettrick picked her future career path. As part of FFA, she helped the rodeo when it was in town.
“We were back behind the chutes making connections,” McKettrick said. She and her classmates volunteered at the rodeo; at the same time, their teacher helped them network with other people there, talking to leaders in the rodeo industry.
“If it wasn’t for FFA and presidencies, I don’t think I’d be able to speak in public,” McKettrick said.
Her brother does professional bullfighting, too, and currently competes while in college. McKettrick ’s family travelled around a lot with him as he competed, another way McKettrick got exposed to rodeos. Her grandmother was also treasurer for the Southeastern Circuit of Rodeos. Now, McKettrick wants to work in TV interviews for rodeos, and will be attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga. in the fall, studying Agricultural Communication and Journalism.
As the Florida Beef Ambassador winner, if McKettrick completes a certain number of community events, writes articles for papers, and attends various meetings for the role, she’ll receive a $1000 scholarship for college. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“It’s kind of like working a job,” McKettrick said. “I do think it’s hard to keep up with…you have to make sacrifices.” Oftentimes, she’s up until 4 a.m. submitting activity reports and photos of herself at events.
The sacrifices and late nights are worth it, though. One of McKettrick ’s favorite activities is classroom engagement. She’s gotten to read to different classes and speak to them about the beef industry, taking the time to go and read to every classroom in the county. She said some Florida Beef Ambassadors in the past have worked hard to petition lawmakers and other industry adults, but she wanted to put her focus on the youth.
“Kids at my school can vote now,” she said, so it’s important to get to them at an early age, teach them the ins and outs of the industry, and maybe spark some inspiration in them. Her hope is that they’ll think, “maybe I can be involved, too.”
This current environment with COVID-19 has shaped her experience as Florida Beef Ambassador. “I would love to tell everyone to stop looking at Twitter,” McKettrick said with a laugh, encouraging those with questions about the industry, especially during this time when food supplies could be looking different than usual, to simply come ask.
“Agriculture is a whole industry that people don’t understand, (but) people are now looking to farmers and agriculturalists,” she said. Many in the industry will be leading the way, and McKettrick hopes to be right there with them.