Cass County Democrat Missourian

Winning FFA food science team at Belton High focuses on business of agriculture

Belton High School Freshman Jesse Swearengin is taking careful notes so that he can give reasons over this set of hogs as a part of the Livestock Evaluation competition at the at the Adrian MoASK March 8.
Belton High School Freshman Jesse Swearengin is taking careful notes so that he can give reasons over this set of hogs as a part of the Livestock Evaluation competition at the at the Adrian MoASK March 8. Courtesy photo

Belton agriculture teacher Cyndee Regers remembers how important agriculture education was in her high school experience. It taught her critical thinking and helped her in career readiness.

“I don’t remember all the English lessons that I learned in high school, but I do remember the things I did with my ag teacher that are still impacting my career today,” Regers said.

In her first year of teaching as an agriculture instructor and FFA adviser, she is working to pass it forward to students.

It seems they are a quick study.

At a regional FFA competition early last month, the Belton FFA food science team Regers coaches took fourth place, missing the state qualification by about 50 points. That point difference is not a lot by FFA standards.

“Their scores were great and they really enjoyed it,” Regers said.

The national FFA organization focuses on the science and business of agriculture. It also teaches leadership skills through competitions. The organization, which was founded in 1928 as Future Farmers of America, changed its name to reflect its expanded reach, providing a wider education about our food and where it comes from.

While Regers grew up in a rural Missouri area south of Nevada and raised pigs, she believes agriculture education is still relevant for students who do not live on farms.

“A lot of kids don’t know where their food comes from and it’s important to have agriculture education in an urban setting, because it’s important to have informed consumers and people to advocate for agriculture one day,” Regers said.

FAA has only offered the food science competition for two years in Missouri. In the competition, students have to complete a variety of tasks related to food safety and quality.

They must pass an aroma test, where they identify food types by smell. In what’s called a “triangle test” they taste three similar foods and have to figure out which one is the off-brand product. The competition also includes a math test and the challenge to create a food product for a target market complete with a nutritional label students calculate themselves.

“It’s a lot, but my kids really enjoyed it,” Regers said. “They really got into it and they told me they wanted to go to state next year. They are excited about it, which makes me really excited about it as an adviser.”

FAA is on the rise in Belton. Regers has worked hard to recruit students and is focusing more on team training for competitions. The program currently has 42 students involved. In order to participate in FAA, students must be enrolled in at least one agriculture class.

Regers believes youth involvement in agriculture is particularly important because the average age of the American farmer today is 58. Agriculture classes are a part of the career and technical education programming offered for Belton students.

“We always need people who are willing to work with their hands. That’s a big part of the model, to get kids who are excited about doing those types of jobs,” Regers said.

In the new Academies of Belton program, agriculture science is a part of the science and industry academy, along with construction, architecture and engineering.

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