MIAMI COUNTY — Four Miami County National FFA National Proficiency winners and finalists recently experienced a trip of a lifetime, earning the opportunity to spend nine days in Costa Rica to experience agriculture from a global perspective.
Attending from Miami County were Zach Hastings, a recent graduate from Covington FFA and his teacher, Jessica Helsinger and recent graduates from Miami East FFA Emily Beal, Kelsey Kirchner, and Nathan Teeters with their teacher, Marie Carity. The group traveled to Costa Rica from June 10-18.
Through this experience, participants gain knowledge by visiting farms and agribusinesses. There were 59 participants including two National FFA staff, seven teachers, and 50 FFA members from 20 different states.
“My favorite part of the experience was the opportunity was to learn beyond the United States and get a taste of how another country’s agriculture industry operates in the world market,” Nathan Teeters said.
Costa Rica mainly produces computer/technology, pineapples, bananas, and coffee with imports of automobiles, corn and soybeans, and many household items including clothes.
Marie Carity, FFA adviser at Miami East High School, shared that the opportunity to expose students to a world beyond Miami County is a great learning experience.
“The fellowship and sharing amongst the FFA members is beneficial for years to come. FFA members on the trip are the best of the best in the nation,” said Marie Carity, FFA adviser at Miami East High Schools.
The week began with an orientation program and overnight stay in Atlanta before departing the next morning for San Jose, the Costa Rica capital.
Tours included the Doka Coffee Plantation, LaPaz Wildlife Refuge and Waterfalls and a tour of the Dole Banana Plantation owned by the Standard Fruit Company.
Covington FFA Adviser Jessica Helsinger shared why she enjoyed the tour of the banana farm.
“We got to learn about the processing with keeping the genetics of the plants and how they pay their workers,” she said.
The students also took time to visit to a local elementary school for day of service. The students greeted the FFA group with a native dance.
FFA members prepared and painted their school fence or planted trees until it rained. After they played soccer in their open-air field. The classrooms are simple and not air-conditioned. The school treated FFA members to a treat of several Costa Rican baked goods.
The FFA students also visited a family’s small-scale organic farm. The group was greeted with fresh coconuts and bamboo straws because they don’t want to use plastics. They shared their composting and digesters on their farm. They market their organic products at a farmers market every Saturday. They raise beef, turkeys, chickens, pigs, dates, bananas, coconuts, palm, plantain, lemons, and much more.
Zach Hastings shared he enjoyed the organic, family farm because he got to see a more family farm type operation. The afternoon was a white water rafting adventure down the Sarapiqui River.
“My favorite part of the trip was getting to experience such a rich, new culture. Through this trip I was able to experience once-in-a-lifetime adventures, such as cliff jumping to zip lining over the top of the Costa Rican rainforest. Those are memories I will keep for the rest of my life,” Emily Beal said.
The students also toured Don Fernando’s Beef Farm. Mr. Fernando gave the group their tour of the farm which raises 800 head on 480 acres with 90 days of grass and feedlot operations. The farm buys some corn from the U.S. for $13.44 a bushel.
FFA members planted trees along the farm’s lowlands in honor of FFA and conservation efforts. The farm is carbon neutral farm.
Kelsey Kirchner shared, “Mr. Fernando actually came on the tour with us. He honored FFA by planting trees. I got to personally plant a tree with Mr. Fernando. That is an experience I will never forget.”
The students also visited the Aqua Tilapia Corporation with 1,440 acres of fish ponds and rice. The farm raises and markets tilapia to the US under St. Peter’s Tilapia. Additionally, the group toured the organic and conventional rice farm that are both marketed domestically.
The students were National Winners and finalists at the National FFA Convention in 2016. Miami East FFA students Emily Beal was named a National Winner in Goat Production, Nathan Teeters was named a National Finalist in Emerging Ag Technology, and Kelsey Kirchner was named a National Finalist in Ag Sales
Covington FFA member Zach Hastings was named National Winner in Ag Mechanics Repair and Maintenance.
This trip was made possible by National FFA Sponsors for each of the members’ award areas plus financial support for the Covington FFA participants from the Upper Valley Career Technology Center. Financial support for the Miami East FFA participants was provided by the Miami County Foundation, Miami Valley Career Technology Center and Miami East FFA Alumni.