Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement, and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through supervised agricultural experiences.
Here are the 2023 winners:
Oklahoma’s Whitney Glazier: 2023 Star in Agricultural Placement
Whitney Glazier is big on farming despite her small stature.
“I am not a very big young lady,” Glazier said. “I am 5-foot-1 and I’m very petite.”
However, her size has never stopped her from chasing success. As a member of Lomega FFA in Oklahoma, Glazier is a fifth-generation farmer with a three-part SAE — she raises crops on her family farm, she worked at a veterinary clinic for over two years, and she is currently working at Oklahoma State University’s agronomy station to research plant science.
“I’m the fifth generation,” Glazier said. “It’s in our blood to want to do this, to be involved in agriculture. It’s just something that’s been instilled in me, and my passion for agriculture is what keeps me going.”
Glazier said her family’s long history in the agriculture sector is what she’s most proud of, especially after a recent tragedy. Her father passed away in June 2023, and Glazier said he was her biggest help and her greatest inspiration.
“He was and still is my biggest role model and my biggest supporter,” Glazier said. “He was an ag teacher for 20 years [and] a full-time farmer. … He gave me building blocks to work off, to build up to make myself successful.”
Looking to the future, Glazier said she hopes to graduate from OSU’s veterinary school and start her own clinic. She said she’ll always work on the family farm when she can, though.
“Once I graduate from this, [I’ll] try to go back out to where I grew up and open my own clinic there to be able to help with the shortage of large animal veterinarians that we have in rural communities,” Glazier said.
Her advice for FFA members who want to start their own SAE is to always ask for help — even if you don’t want to.
“For some people, asking for help isn’t always the easiest,” Glazier said. “But knowing that you can have people in your corner who are willing to do anything to help you … is second to none.”
Missouri resident George Frees: 2023 Star in Agriscience
A trip to Jamaica inspired George Frees to study a plant not commonly found in his native Missouri: sugarcane.
“I was doing a marine biology camp there and was able to speak to some local sugarcane growers,” Frees said. “It immediately fascinated me that you could grow this 9-, 10-, sometimes even 15-foot-tall plant.”
When Frees started an agriscience-SAE as a member of Cass Career Center FFA in Missouri, he decided to pair sugarcane cultivation with another interest.
“Something that’s always been very important to me is environmentalism and proper stewardship of the environment,” Frees said. “So, it just became a very natural thing to me to combine my interest in sugarcane and my interest in the production of renewable fuels.”
Specifically, Frees studied how treating sugarcane with gibberellic acid — a growth hormone sometimes applied to citrus fruits to promote cold tolerance — increases the amount of ethanol biofuel that can be produced from the plant.
“The main issue is sugarcane is simply not a largely popularized crop in the United States. There’s a somewhat limited growing zone,” Frees said. “But from the standpoint of ethanol production, sugarcane is far superior in labor intensity and cost (compared to corn).”
Frees has continued to act on his passion for crop science. He’s currently double majoring in biochemistry and plant sciences at the University of Missouri, where he’s the campus beekeeper and puts in hours in four different labs.
“I plan to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program and work in the field called ethnobotany, which is looking at how native peoples around the world use medicinal plants and then developing new pharmaceuticals based off of that.”
Frees credits FFA as the organization that’s had the “single largest impact” on the trajectory of his life. In addition to his SAE, Frees participated in the Washington Leadership Conference and served as chapter vice president and parliamentarian.
“I firmly believe that without FFA, I would not have gotten the scholarship that I now hold and had all the opportunities for research that I take part in right now.”
Minnesota’s Daniel Jossund: 2023 Star Farmer
Everyone on the border between North Dakota and Minnesota knows that snow is a hassle, but for Daniel Jossund, dealing with snow is one of the many ways he earns a living.
“In the wintertime, I push snow in Fargo at night running a payloader,” Jossund said.
Jossund is no stranger to operating heavy machinery. As a member of Ada-Borup-West FFA in Minnesota, he farms on both his parents’ land and his own land to raise sugar beets, corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. He’s particularly focused on baling straw and alfalfa, with over 1,000 acres baled in 2022.
“I own all my own machinery for all the haying and the baling, and I have my own semi for trucking,” Jossund said. “Everything to do with the baling is all on my own. I use my parents’ machinery for the crop farming.”
Farming is a family business for Jossund. He began working on his SAE when he was a teenager with the help of his parents and his brother Andrew Jossund. However, Jossund said his parents aren’t balers by trade, so he learned a lot about the practice from other local farmers.
“I got started with it when I was 14,” Jossund said. “I bought a small square baler to start baling with my brother Andrew. He’s nine years older than I am and, as we got older, he had other interests, and I started baling more — and I bought him out of the baling business.”
Now 20 years old, Jossund said owning 150 acres of land at such a young age is one of the things he’s most proud of. Jossund is currently majoring in agribusiness at North Dakota State University, and he said he’s planning on continuing to expand his current farming operations after he graduates.
“The college degree is pretty much just to have a degree and meet people,” Jossund said. “That’s the best part about it. All the people I’ve met.”
Jossund’s advice for FFA members starting their own SAE is to persevere — you might not like your job every day, but it’s a good job if you’d still rather be doing it than anything else.
“That’s what I always tell myself when I’m out in the field, and stuff’s not going right or I have hay that gets rained on or whatever. ‘Oh, I hate this.’ But then I think there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than this,” Jossund said.
Tennessee’s Lainey Hutchinson: 2023 Star in Agribusiness
Horses have been a staple of agriculture for centuries, and people like Lainey Hutchison are educating the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls.
“My supervised agricultural experience is in an area of equine entrepreneurship,” Hutchison said. “My ag business consists of me teaching horse riding lessons [and] doing youth farm camps.”
Hutchison, a member of Crockett County FFA in Tennessee, has been riding horses since she was three years old and competing in rodeos since she was 7, she said. Horses are just one part of her life, however — Hutchison comes from a cattle ranching family, and she has also worked with goats for many years.
In addition to typical ventures like breeding and selling goats, Hutchison said she spent a few months in high school using her herd’s milk to make luxurious cleaning products.
“A smaller part of my business was making and selling goat soap and lotion,” Lainey said. “There was a lot of experimenting and trial and error, but we finally perfected our recipe, and we sold a lot of it in a very short amount of time. … Honestly, one day, I would like to start that back up again.”
At 19 years old, Hutchison said she is proud of her financial independence and how much agricultural knowledge she gets to pass on to younger generations at her youth farm camps. She also credited her parents and FFA advisor, Haley Williams, with making her SAE successful.
“I never was a huge SAE kid in high school,” Hutchison said. “I didn’t understand why they wanted me to compete with it at all. Now I do. … [Ms. Williams] definitely has pushed me and encouraged me to keep going.”
Hutchison is attending the University of Tennessee at Martin on a rodeo scholarship. She’s majoring in farm and ranch management, and she said she plans to continue expanding her operations after graduation. She already has a few ideas, including hosting retreats and birthday parties on her family farm.
For FFA members looking to start an SAE, Hutchison advises chasing your passions.
“I found something that I loved, and I made a business out of it,” Hutchison said. “Without my SAE and without FFA, I would not have been able to showcase my independence as a woman in ag. I think FFA is a great decision for anyone.”
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. were nominated by a panel of judges, who then interviewed the finalists this fall. Four were named winners during the 96th National FFA Convention & Expo this year, which was held in Indianapolis. Winners received cash awards. Cargill, Case IH, Elanco Animal Health, and Syngenta sponsor the awards.
» See all of our National FFA coverage here.
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Author: Heidi Crnkovic