May 21, 2024

FFA members develop cattle and vegetable projects to win national awards

INDIANAPOLIS — Working with cattle and vegetables resulted in two Illinois FFA members receiving national Agricultural Proficiency Awards.

Lizzie Schafer won the top honor for Beef Production-Placement and Ty Steffen received the national award for Diversified Crop Production-Entrepreneurship during the 95th National FFA Convention and Expo held in Indianapolis.

Although Schafer started her FFA record book as a high school freshman, she has showed cattle since she was 6 years old and her first showing experience was with pigs at age 3.

“I’ve worked for Schafer Stock Farm pretty much my whole life,” the Taylorville FFA member said.

During her high school junior year, as a result of COIVD, Schafer worked a lot of hours on the farm.

“That helped me learn a lot more about the operation and in my senior year I was promoted to herd manager,” said the daughter of Aaron and Sue Schafer. “In that role I checked pastures, helped sell cattle to different states and helped pick out cattle to go to sales.”

In the past, the Schafers have sold cattle from their 120-cow Angus herd through a sale online.

“Now we sell through private treaty and I help match the right animals to 4-H and FFA kids,” explained the FFA award winner who is advised by Katie King, Lori Parks and Sue Schafer.

Currently, Schafer is a freshman at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, where she is studying agricultural communications.

“I hope to be an agricultural broadcaster,” she said.

The livestock judging program is one reason Schafer choose the Kansas school.

“The livestock judging coach, Taylor Frank, is one of the main reasons I decided to come here,” she explained. “He’s so good at training kids not only for livestock judging, but to become high quality individuals.”

Many people have helped Schafer achieve FFA awards.

“I want to thank my advisers because they have done so much for me to get to this point, especially since I’ve been at college and we’re eight hours away from each other,” she said. “And my dad has helped me a lot with my project.”

In addition to his vegetable garden, Steffen’s project includes four acres of pumpkins and a half acre of broom corn and gourds.

“I grow produce commonly found in gardens such as onions, peppers, potatoes and carrots,” the Newark FFA member said.

“I grew at least 30 varieties of gourds,” he said. “I think that’s what gives me an edge by having products that customers may have never seen before.”

Steffen sells most of his products at local farmers markets.

“I go to five or so farmers markets in Morris, Oswego and Sandwich and I advertise those through social media,” the high school senior reported. “For my pumpkins, I have honor hay racks along Route 71, so my customers can view them at any time.”

This is the second year that Steffen was selected as a national finalist for a FFA proficiency award. Last year he attended the convention for his specialty crop production project that included growing gladiolas, cut flowers and potted mums.

“Being on stage was fun, but it comes with mixed emotions,” said the son of Joe and Tracy Steffen. “Going out on stage, you can’t see anything with the lights blaring in your face and you can hardly hear anything because the speakers are projecting to the crowd.”

Steffen was shocked when he heard his name.

“I think I recall letting out a ‘let’s go’ and doing a fist bump,” said the FFA member who is advised by his dad, Joe Steffen. “Then it just hits me of what I was able to accomplish.”

Currently, Steffen is president of the Newark Chapter and Section 7 treasurer. He is working on his plans after high school and will probably attend Joliet Junior College and transfer to a university to complete his degree in horticulture or agricultural business.

“I want to thank all the people that helped me along the way — obviously, my dad who pushed me the extra mile,” Steffen said.

“I also want to thank all my friends who helped me pick pumpkins because I could not have gotten all my produce out of the field if it weren’t for them.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor