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Two Hastings students earn highest FFA degree

Gabriella Sorg, center, is pictured with her parents, Bill and Juanita Sorg, after receiving the American FFA Degree. (Submitted photo)

Two college students from Hastings recently completed a major accomplishment within Future Farmers of America. Aaron Mamer and Gabriella Sorg, both graduates of Hastings High School, were awarded the FFA Degree, the highest honor the organization can give out. According to the FFA, fewer than 1 percent of FFA members earn the American FFA Degree.

“It’s your grand finale of being in FFA,” Mamer said.

Sorg, the daughter of Bill and Juanita Sorg, and Mamer, the son of Larry and Marlys Mamer, received the award at the 2016 National FFA Convention and Expo, held Oct. 19-22 in Indianapolis.

Earning the American FFA Degree requires years of dedication. It takes so long to accomplish it that students have to start working for it in their first years of joining FFA, Mamer said. FFA members who hope to earn it must first earn their chapter and state degrees, Sorg explained.

There are seven requirements for the American FFA Degree. Besides having earned their State FFA Degree, members must be active for at least the past three years with satisfactory participation, must complete at least 540 hours of secondary school agricultural instruction and one full year of enrollment at a postsecondary agricultural program, have graduated from high school at least 12 months before the convention, maintain records substantiating an outstanding supervised agricultural experience program, have a record of outstanding leadership abilities and community involvement with at least a high school “C” average and have participated in at least 50 hours of community service. Each American FFA Degree candidate must also have either earned at least $10,000 and invested $7,500 in the agricultural industry or earned and invested $2,000 and worked another 2,250 hours beyond scheduled agricultural class time.

The supervised agricultural experience makes up the bulk of the application. Members can choose either to work for an existing operation or take an entrepreneurial route and develop their own agricultural business. Some of their fellow FFA members ran their own chicken farm, Mamer said.

“They’re literally running their own operation at 20 years old,” he said.

Both Mamer and Sorg opted to work on their family farms. Sorg said the degree required him to keep extensive records of her work.

“It’s a lot of keeping track of how you spend and earn your money,” she said.

Mamer did his work experience working for his father over the years, he said.

Finally earning the degree is both a relief and an honor, they said.

“It’s a big honor, and for me to get it made me proud, because it made my adviser proud, who I have absolute respect for,” Mamer said.

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling to know you were able to get through all of that,” Sorg said. “It’s a lot of years of work that came up to this point.”

Both Sorg and Mamer joined FFA early in their high school careers. Sorg joined as a ninth-grader and Mamer joined as a 10th grader.

“It’s great to have more exposure to the industry,” Sorg said.

FFA gave her the opportunities to work with others in the agricultural industry and grow personally. The organization allowed her to attend conferences, events and competitions and learn practical skills.

“You get your exposure to what could possibly be a future career,” she said.

Mamer joined after his brother-in-law got him interested in showing cattle, he explained. He said he knew the first time he attended the FFA National Convention, his junior year of high school, that he wanted to earn the American FFA Degree. Others in the chapter also earned the degree that year, he said.

Sorg and Mamer are both members of the Randolph FFA chapter, as Hastings doesn’t have a chapter of its own. Since HHS doesn’t offer agricultural classes, they had to take their high school coursework through an outreach program offered at Randolph High School. This year, the chapter had a total of six members earning the American FFA Degree, including Mamer and Sorg.

Now, Mamer is attending the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he is studying agriculture business. Sorg is attending the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she is double-majoring in animal science and agricultural and food business management.

For Mamer, FFA is about more than just earning accomplishments and building up their resume. It’s also an important way for them to learn outreach skills so he can teach the general public about agriculture. Mamer said that education is important, because there are some people who believe that things like meat and vegetables simply come from a grocery store.

“They don’t really understand that everything starts with the farmer,” he said.

Plus, there are enough anti-farmer campaigns that keep the agricultural industry on the defensive in the public eye, he said.

“FFA gives us the tools to go out and speak to people and help them understand,” he said.