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Montana team takes a national win at FFA convention

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Gus Turner, right, and Shaun Billingsley talked about a Missoula FFA team taking a national FFA win this year. PHOTO BY KEILA SZPALLER / DAILY MONTANAN

By Keila Szpaller DAILY MONTANAN

Sporting traditional blue jackets and winning medals, Shaun Billingsley and Gus Turner of Missoula County Public Schools got a round of applause this month for bringing home a first place award from the national FFA convention — a first for the Missoula FFA team and first Montana win in more than a decade, according to a presentation to trustees.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to teach more kids who grow up in a city like Missoula how they can impact agriculture, 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 tilling land and into food production and growing new leaders, such as the estimated 70,000 other “blue jackets” at the national convention in Indianapolis.

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

Turner and Billingsley made their comments during a presentation this month to Missoula County Public Schools trustees about the agriculture education program in the district and the FFA trip to the national convention. One Missoula team placed fifth in agriscience, and the local food science team took first place.

One of the teachers interjected to tell trustees a quick highlight of the journey was a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: “We gotta go kiss the bricks. So, it was a fun tour.”

High school students who participate in the ag program take classes at an agriculture center and facility of 100 acres in Missoula, Billingsley said. They learn about agriculture from “conception to consumption,” or from artificially inseminating animals to butchering and eating them.

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

Students turned the recent donation of fruit from the food bank into jam and jelly and “all sorts of concoctions,” he said.

“It was 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, and about public speaking and leadership development. Turner noted Montana counts at least 3,000 FFA members, and the organization counts roughly 800,000 nationally.

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

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

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

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