Ambassadors in agriculture
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Kayla Hack is the state FFA president. Photo submitted.
Alicia Hodnik is the FFA central regional vice president. . Photo submitted.
Saying that Walworth County is well-represented in FFA leadership might be an understatement. Two state officers and one national officer — all with county roots — head to the national FFA convention later this month.
Their stories are as unique as their personalities, and they share similar passion for the century-old organization.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
Planting a seed
Alicia Hodnik was 11 years old when her family moved from California to Wisconsin. With a new lifestyle, school and rural location, Hodnik felt like a transplant — like a packet of so many unplanted seeds. She made friends, but high school arrived as quickly as the move and Hodnik found herself looking to succeed.
Then Big Foot High School paired her with a mentor, who just happened to be president of the local FFA chapter. The upperclassmen wasted no time trying to recruit Hodnik.
“I thought, what is a city girl going to do in the FFA?” she said.
What she found was she could do anything. Quickly excelling within the local chapter and prodded by chapter adviser Lisa Konkel, Hodnik also picked up an agriculture class.
“I had an open block and didn’t want a study hall,” Hodnik said.
When asked to what she credits her quick success, Hodnik said it’s the culture of the group.
“It’s instant acceptance,” she said. “Agriculture is diverse and you need people from all walks of life.”
Even with the pressure of high school to fit in, she said FFA doesn’t discriminate.
“FFA doesn’t care if everyone is the exact level of cool,” Hodnik said. “We go against the grain and are not afraid to do things that are not cool.”
The current Central Region vice president (her term expires in October) has been on the road 320 days, spending time with everyone from local members to founders and businessmen. She plans to move back out west and major in biotechnology.
The national convention, set for Oct. 24 through Oct. 27 in Indianapolis, will be Hodnik’s fifth.
“I feel like I’ve aged, and I will be 22 at convention!” she said.
However, she said people can expect great things from leaders of her generation.
“Give it 20 years, and we’ll give you things you never imagined.”
Born and bred
Emily Watson, 20, is the oldest of seven siblings living on a family farm near Elkhorn. She annually shows in the junior and open class departments at the Walworth County Fair, recently netting junior reserve champion for her brown Swiss. According to David Kruse, agriculture teacher and FFA chapter adviser at Elkhorn Area High School, Watson took to FFA eager for everything.
“She was like a sponge, and soaked it all up,” Kruse said.
Almost like a proud parent, Kruse added, “Emily is only the second officer in the history of the chapter.”
Watson was attracted to FFA like so many before her because of a natural interest in the industry.
“I saw the passion, and it made me take a risk,” she said.
Risk taking often goes hand in hand with defeat, which Watson knows all too well: She ran for state office twice before being selected vice president.
But she did run again, and was selected state VP, a responsibility she has relished since June.
Recently on the run for three weeks criss-crossing the state, Watson is being paid back for her persistence.
National honors for FFA members
Several area residents and FFA chapters will be recognized at the national convention later this month:
-- National chapter award, three-star rating, Badger FFA and Big Foot FFA
-- Veterinary science career development event participant, Badger FFA
-- Agriculture issues career development event participant, Big Foot FFA
-- American FFA degree, Emma Jones, Badger FFA
-- American FFA degree, Emily Watson, Elkhorn FFA
-- American FFA degree, Adrianna Vanderstappen, Big Foot FFA
-- National proficiency award finalist, nursery operation, Shanna Mercier, Badger FFA
-- Agriscience fair national finalists, animal systems, division 4, Seth Loudenbeck and Jack Barry, Big Foot FFA
-- Agriscience fair national finalist, plant systems, division 2, Serena Krause, Big Foot FFA
-- Agriscience fair national finalist, environmental systems/natural resource systems, division 1, Dakota Turk, Big Foot FFA
-- Agriscience fair national finalist, environmental services/natural resource systems, division 2, Brittany Rambatt, Big Foot FFA