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Amber Simmons and Katie Weygandt talk about their time with FFA and the importance of agriculture.

COURTESY PHOTO - Katie Weygandt earned her state FFA degree before graduating in June.While the members of Madras FFA didn't get to go the 92nd FFA Convention this year, two members — Amber Simmons and Katie Weygandt — earned the FFA State Degree.

Adviser Sara Vollmer said that is the highest honor awarded by each state, and she said many members strive for the award all the years they are in FFA.

While they were only recognized virtually at the convention, Ag West displayed posters of the pair to recognize them in Madras.

Katie Weygandt took a class from Vollmer at Jefferson County Middle School when she was in eighth grade. Her freshman year, Vollmer encouraged her further.

"She pushed me to join the organization and go to a couple competitions to see if I liked it," Weygandt said.

Weygandt enjoyed meeting people and becoming a leader.

"I think that's the main thing about FFA," she said.

FFA helped her develop the natural leadership skills she had made as a goalie playing soccer.

Part of earning the state degree is keeping good records.

"I had to go in and do some extra things," Weygandt said. Dan McNary helped her figure out why some activities were being counted and others weren't.

"I think the most challenging was not knowing if you had everything," she said.

She was only in FFA for a couple of years and wasn't used to keeping track.

Her favorite thing about the organization? "Getting your face out there and meeting new people."

Her specialty is showing rabbits at the county fair, which she won't get to do this year because of restrictions on gathering due to COVID-19.

Rabbits aren't common for FFA members, and that means she competes with 4-Hers and against herself.

Weygandt plans to study general agriculture at Central Oregon Community College in the fall. And if Vollmer needs help judging competitions, Weygandt will be happy to help.

She's not sure where she wants a degree in agriculture to take her.

"No matter what you do in agriculture, you are the heart of the United States because you are there to feed America," she said.

She wants people to know that FFA isn't just about farming. The organization dropped its former name, Future Farmers of America.

"You can meet a lot of great people and have good relationships," she said.

COURTESY PHOTO - Amber Simmons earned her state FFA degree before graduating in June.

Simmons developed an interest in agriculture in 4-H.

"Then I switched to FFA when I got into an ag class my freshman year," she said.

She loved going to the fair, taking an animal to market and showing it.

She is currently raising sheep but has also raised pigs and goats.

Pigs are her favorite "because they're a really fun animal, and they have a lot of personality," Simmons said.

It took her a couple of years to earn her state degree, she said. She had done most of the requirements, but she had to make sure she had recorded all of them.

"I had to put a few more hours into FFA," she said. "Other than that, I had most of it."

Simmons is planning to study nursing at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. While she's not choosing agriculture as a career, her FFA experiences will follow her.

"It helped me with public speaking," she said, "and I know that I won't want to live in a big city, and I think it's important to know about agriculture and what it does for us."

She wants to share that with her own children someday, so they'll understand that their food doesn't come from the grocery store.

"If I live in a place where I can, I would raise some sort of livestock, and definitely, I'll have my kids in 4-H and FFA," she said.

Her favorite memories include making "dirt babies" with kids at Ag Fest by putting dirt in pantyhose along with some grass seed. The kids get to decorate their baby, "and then it grows hair," Simmons said.

There was also the time she was showing sheep along with her best friend, Jensen Comment, and her brother Bryce Simmons.

"My sheep, for once, was doing good, and her sheep, for once, was doing bad," Simmons said.

But Bryce's sheep kept rearing up, so much that it made the judge laugh.

Simmons will miss the fair and going to competitions and testing her skills in woodshop, metal shop, flower design and GPS.

"I think that the ag program is really important because we live in such a big ag community," she said," and it provides a lot of skills that people will need inside and outside of the classroom."

Vollmer praised the girls for their accomplishments, as well as five other seniors who contributed to FFA — Bailey Dennis, Aspen Holcomb, Hunter Fitts, Matthew Bunt and Dani Macias.

Normally they would have had a banquet at the end of the year with a slide show and a chance to thank their parents for their support, but, like so many other events for the Class of 2020, that had to be canceled.

Vollmer said Dennis and Holcomb would have received their state degrees, but they joined their junior year and did not meet the two-year requirement.

"They both were extremely active FFA members, serving as officers, going to Nationals, earning the 2020 FFA Alumni Scholarship," she said. "They were both an amazing asset to the program as a whole."

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