Derry students earn FFA's Keystone Degree, respect
Any good farmer knows that raising sheep, pigs and plants requires hundreds of hours of dedication and hard work.
Three students at Derry Area High School have learned that firsthand as they were awarded one of the highest awards in the Future Farmers of America.
For their efforts, including detailed schedules and financial reports, the Derry Area seniors earned the Keystone Degree and were presented with the honors at this year's Pennsylvania Farm Show.
“It's someone thanking you for all the work you've done, so it's a privilege,” said Kody Fetter of New Derry, who earned his award for greenhouse projects and food science.
The degrees require an investment of $1,000 or 300 project hours, including leadership skills, 25 hours of community service and attendance at regional and state FFA events.
Stephen Winklosky of Derry Township said those members who earn the Keystone Degree are held to a high standard when attending those conferences.
“You're respected a little more,” he said, adding that award winners wear a gold FFA pin with a chain that hangs from a front pants pocket.
Winklosky earned his award for raising pigs on his family's farm.
Students are required to keep a logbook documenting every action during their project — down to every minute spent feeding or taking the pigs for a walk — and budgeting money.
Graphs and calculations are also required to show how much yield came from the project for the amount of money invested, as well as budgeted income and expenses compared with actual finances.
“It's definitely useful if you're going into a job with this kind of paperwork,” said Brandie Nicely of Peanut, who earned her degree with a project on nonfarm employment, documenting her internship during the summer at the high school Agriculture/Horticulture Complex.
Nicely earned a regional star for her work in the Agricultural Placement category.
“It taught me how to manage everything you have to think about when you're planning projects,” she said.
FFA adviser Roy Campbell said the students were among only 302 recipients of the award this year out of the more than 8,000 FFA members throughout Pennsylvania.
Only about one or two Derry Area students earn the award each year, Campbell said.
Both Winklosky and Nicely aspire to expand their projects, applying for the American FFA Degree — earned by only the top members from each state in a given year. The pair also plan to run for a state FFA office, for which they are eligible until they are 21.
All three students said the camaraderie of the conventions and the hands-on nature of the projects are what has kept them so involved in the high school's chapter of the organization, one of the oldest in the country.
“It was just a whole bunch of opportunities to go out and meet new people ... and really grow in our leadership skills and how we handle agriculture,” Winklosky said.
Winklosky, son of Paul and Gretchen Winklosky, plans to study agricultural engineering at Penn State in the autumn. His sister Elizabeth also is involved in FFA as a junior at Derry Area High. She earned a state gold award for her project book, which documented raising pigs.
Nicely, daughter of Erin and Kevin Nicely, plans to attend Cornell University to study molecular biology with an interest in stem cell research.
Fetter, son of Lynne Connor, plans to attend either Penn State Altoona or Westmoreland County Community College for landscape contracting before finishing his degree at Penn State University Park.
Fetter said he has learned that success — whether raising an animal or running a business — comes only with hard work, added a little at a time.
“If you want something to come out of an organization like FFA, you have to put something into it,” he said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.