DINUBA – Four high school students from Dinuba will be representing the state of California as they take on the 96th National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention and Expo in Indianapolis at the beginning of November.
The Dinuba High School FFA nursery/landscape team won their state finals competition at California Polytechnic State University in May by more than 400 points, launching them into the national arena. They will travel to the national convention Nov. 1-4 to compete with FFA students from across the country and take in everything the FFA has to offer in terms of career and leadership development education.
“The students and myself are very proud to represent the community of Dinuba, as well as the entire state at the national level,” Nicole Borba, Dinuba High teacher and head FFA advisor, said. “We are all happy that we are continuously putting Dinuba FFA on the map and making our community proud.”
FFA is an intracurricular student organization geared toward students interested in agriculture and leadership careers; it is one of three prongs of school-based agricultural education, according to the National FFA Organization’s website.
As part of the agriculture career pathway at Dinuba High School, students can take specialized courses and participate in organizations like FFA to round out their education.
Borba said FFA prepares students’ potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through its curriculum and intra-curricular activities.
“Regardless if students choose a future in the agriculture industry, they develop an appreciation for the production of food, fiber and fuel production as well as appreciating the cutting edge technology and the scientific side of our industry,” Borba said.
During a presentation to the Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) Board of Trustees at its Oct. 12 meeting, Dinuba FFA Chapter President Elizabeth Quintero explained how the nursery/landscape competition works and what the team does to prepare for it.
“The contest includes principles such as plant identification, general knowledge (and) judging a set of four different plants,” Quintero said. “It also includes transplant — moving a plant from a smaller container into a larger container — and various knowledge about the greenhouse and nursery operations in the industry.”
The nursery/landscape team is made up of students Lauryn Sotelo, Alonso Soto, Quintero and Mariah Enriqez. At the state competition, they individually placed first, second, fourth and sixth, respectively. Quintero said the team was also undefeated in the season leading up to the state finals.
Seeds to success
This is the third time the nursery/landscape team has won the state finals competition and it is the second time Dinuba will be sending a team to compete nationally.
Borba said that to be so successful in this category, the team starts their season at the end of October and works through May, meeting to practice for around three hours each week.
At Dinuba High School, courses like floral design, plant science, business floral and landscape design help prepare students for careers in those industries and FFA competitions. FFA students also receive help from their advisors and community members who work in the industry.
Rhonda Watson, who owns Watson’s Nursery and Landscape in Reedley and is on the advisory committee for the Dinuba High agriculture department, said the team comes to her nursery to practice plant identification. Members also work with her husband for training in aspects of running a business, understanding landscape drawings and the identification and operation of power equipment, she said.
Watson said Borba also deserves recognition for her work with the team.
“She gives so much of her time to this team all year long,” Watson said. “She loves her job and all of her students, and if she can lead this team to become state champs again and possibly national champs, then it’s worth all of that hard work and dedication.”
To prepare for the national convention, the nursery/landscape team members said they studied throughout the summer to familiarize themselves with the content that will be brought up on the national level, as it can differ from the state competition.
“Over 80% of the national level contest is brand new, as California’s contest is not aligned to National FFA’s,” Borba said. “We have spent time learning new identification, landscape general knowledge, verbal customer service, scaling and reading drawings, propagation and hands-on skills needed in the landscape industry.”
Borba said that since the beginning of June, the team has met twice a week for about five hours each time to get ready for the national convention. They also sought out local supporters to fundraise for the trip, as costs related to the national convention are steep.
Leading up to the national convention, Borba said the students are excited, albeit nervous.
“They have worked hard and are ready to test their knowledge and represent our great state,” Borba said.