by JESSICA ANDERSON
Throughout November and the beginning of December, Polk County FFA members were given multiple opportunities to strengthen their knowledge of the agriculture industry, build connections, and develop their leadership skills. Starting off the month of November, members from chapters all over the county participated in the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. Polk County members not only represented our state in national FFA contests but also got to experience several industry tours including Fair Oaks Farms where they learned about dairy and swine operations, Beasley’s Orchards, and Ozark Fisheries to get an inside look at aquaculture. Students were able to build connections with other members from all 50 states and make memories that will last a lifetime.
After the National Convention trip, the Polk County Federation held its annual FFA Friendsgiving, where middle and high school students gathered at Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland to share laughs, tell stories, and build friendships with one another. Each chapter brought in a desert and a game of kickball was played. The kickball game, though competitive, allowed students who may have never met each other to work as a team and bond with members from other chapters, broadening the connection of Polk County FFA chapters.
On top of the developed relationships, FFA members competed in multiple competitive events in the weeks that followed. Polk County Federation hosted many county contests, including an inaugural Vegetable Evaluation contest, Citrus Evaluation contest, and LDE Subdistricts. Subdistricts included events such as OCC (Opening and Closing Ceremonies), Safe Tractor Operations, Parliamentary Procedures, and multiple public speaking contests. At the state level, many teams from the county successfully competed in Forestry, Vegetable, and Citrus Evaluation. George Jenkins High School in Lakeland secured the title of FFA Forestry State Champions and will represent Polk County and all of Florida at the national level in 2024.
Even with all the success already achieved by Polk County, chapters and members have much to work toward and look forward to in upcoming months. Competitive events, youth fairs, and livestock shows, as well as community service opportunities, abound in the New Year. With the Polk County Youth Fair in January where students will be showing off and selling their projects, scattered Career Development Events, and the beginning of the Making a Difference Award campaign, there are so many opportunities for chapters to take part in.
The Making a Difference Award is an annual contest held by the Polk County FFA Federation in which middle and high school chapters compete and serve communities all over the Central Florida Region. This year’s award is focused on serving students in need throughout Polk County through the collective donation of hygiene products to go to the HEARTH program associated with Polk County Schools. Chapters are asked to gather items within their own school to be counted and sent to the Polk County Federation to be donated. The chapter with the most items collected will receive the Making a Difference Award at the annual Polk County FFA Banquet in May. This service project began Jan. 1 and will end Feb. 22 at the County Quiz Bowl. This event will not only introduce competition amongst chapters but also provide a good way for members to connect with their community and less fortunate students in their very own schools.
As we start a new year, Polk County FFA has so much to be thankful for. Plentiful opportunities to learn and grow, continued successes, and most importantly, the strong bonds of friendship.