The Montana team clinches a national win at the FFA convention

By Keila Szpaller DAILY MONTANAN

Missoula County Public Schools’ Shaun Billingsley and Gus Turner, who wore traditional blue jackets and won medals, received applause this month for taking home first place from the national FFA convention — a first for the Missoula FFA Team and first win in Montana in more than a decade, according to a presentation to trustees.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to teach more kids growing up in a city like Missoula how they can make an impact on farming, even if they don’t want to be a farmer,” said Billingsley, vice president of the Missoula FFA.

Turner, president of the Missoula FFA, said FFA used to stand for Future Farmers of America, but it doesn’t anymore because the industry has expanded far beyond farmland into food production and is training new leaders, like the estimated 70,000 others. Blue Jackets” at the national convention in Indianapolis.

“It’s just out of proportion for me to even conceptualize,” Turner said.

Turner and Billingsley commented on the district’s agricultural education program and the FFA’s trip to the national convention during a presentation to the trustees of Missoula County Public Schools this month. A Missoula team placed fifth in agricultural science, and the local food science team placed first.

One of the teachers interjected to tell the trustees a brief highlight of the trip was a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: “We’ve got to kiss the bricks. So it was a fun tour.”

High school students participating in the agricultural program take classes at a 100-acre agricultural center and facility in Missoula, Billingsley said. You will learn about farming from “conception to consumption” or from artificial insemination to slaughtering and eating.

“We also only got 16 tons of strawberries, which is just a lot of strawberries,” Turner said.

The students turned the recently donated fruit from the chalkboard into jam and jelly and “all kinds of concoctions,” he said.

“It’s been a really good learning experience for a lot of these kids who’ve never had the opportunity to process food,” Turner said.

Students learn about food quality and safety, as well as public speaking and leadership development. Turner noted that Montana has at least 3,000 FFA members and the organization has about 800,000 nationwide.

The presentation noted that Claire Standley, Joel Standley, and Turner and Billingsley were members of the winning national food science team, and Claire Standley individually placed third in the nation. The presentation noted that Kara Conley and Faith Berow had won fifth place.

The speakers also noted that FFA member Kadin Kammerer received his American degree at the national convention.

“The American degree is the highest honor that the national FFA can bestow,” Turner said.