May 21, 2024

Ag sales winner markets variety of products through her farm stand

Kendra Downing (at front) and her sister, Emily, sit on a hayrack load of straw they will market through their farm stand located just outside of Cambridge, Illinois. Downing won the National FFA agricultural proficiency award for agricultural sales — entrepreneurship for her work to market her own products as well as products purchased from local producers.

INDIANAPOLIS — Kendra Downing has learned how to deal with adverse conditions and as a result won the National FFA agricultural proficiency award for agricultural sales — entrepreneurship.

The Cambridge FFA member received the prestigious award during the 96th National FFA Convention and Expo held in Indianapolis.

“My sister and I have a pumpkin patch and a few years ago our pumpkin crop wasn’t very good so we had to buy a lot of pumpkins to fill in the gap,” Downing said. “So, the buying and reselling of products was born out of necessity because we didn’t want to just shut the farm down.”

The Downing Daughters Pumpkin Patch offers a variety of products including straw, honey, mums and popcorn.

“It is really cool to be able to connect with local producers and have a better audience for their products,” said the daughter of Zane and Crista Downing.

Kendra and her sister, Emily, operate the pumpkin patch and farm stand at their grandma’s farm on the edge of Cambridge.

“The largest pumpkin patch we had was about three acres and we also have a five-acre corn maze,” the FFA member said.

Last year, Downing competed with her vegetable production record book and won the state award.

“I thought it would be cool to improve on what I did last year, but I didn’t expect to go all the way to winning the national award,” she said.

“It was crazy to be on stage and see all those people,” she said about the award presentation at the convention. “It was overwhelming and I was shocked when they announced my name — it didn’t feel real.”

Advised by Haley Gruber and Trenton Taber, Downing competed in many career development contests as a Cambridge FFA member.

“My favorite was land use when we judged the soil pits,” she said.

“I was the chapter treasurer, vice president and president and my senior year I was also the Section 3 president,” she recalled. “As a section president, I went on chapter visits with the state officers and hosted a few leadership conferences, which was a pretty neat experience.”

Downing is currently a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where she is working on a double major in soil and crop science and environmental horticulture, with a minor in agribusiness.

“My dream job is to have a specialty farm and continue the pumpkin patch and everything I learned from that,” she said. “I also want to grow cut flowers, Christmas trees and have an orchard.”

The national award winner enjoys working in the specialty crop industry and building relationships with the community and customers.

“Cambridge is a pretty small town so I know a lot of the people that come to the pumpkin patch year after year,” she said. “It’s cool to build relationships with them and they’ll have stories or pictures when they came to the farm five years ago and now their kids are so much bigger.”

Downing is grateful to her grandma for allowing her to operate the farmstead and pumpkin patch at her farm.

“I’m also grateful for my sister, Emily. It has been really good to learn how to work together,” the FFA member said. “And also my adviser who helped me with my record book and prepare for the interviews.”

“I’m really grateful for all these valuable life lessons I’ve learned through FFA competitions,” she said. “I feel so much more confident and prepared because of all the experience I’ve had in FFA.”

“I’m really thankful to God for giving me my family and putting all the different people in my life to accomplish this,” Downing said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor