Kattie Miller, a sophomore at Northwest State Community College, removes seeds from test pumpkins at Rupp Seeds Inc.
If judges at the National FFA Convention want to toss a hard question to two young Fulton County women who are competing for top awards for their work in squash breeding and genetics, they could ask, "What would it take to get you to eat more squash?"
Laura Bruner, a Pettisville FFA member who is one of four national finalists for a food science and technology award, and Kattie Miller, a Wauseon FFA member who is one of four such finalists for a specialty crop production award, rarely eat squash.
"I've had a couple bites. It's just not my favorite thing," Miss Miller said.
And the women, both 19-year-old college sophomores who have each spent hundreds of hours breeding, labeling, weighing, photographing, and sorting squash at Rupp Seeds Inc. in Fulton County's Clinton Township, have next to no experience cooking it. Miss Bruner said she tried it a time or two but she was never thrilled with the results.
That's not to say that judges at the FFA convention this week in Indianapolis can stump the women with such a question.
Despite never preparing squash herself, Miss Miller, who is studying office administration at Northwest State Community College, is quick to explain how squash can be prepared quite easily in a microwave. "You can just cut it in half, put on butter, sugar, cinnamon "
And Miss Bruner, who is studying plant pathology at Ohio State University's college of agriculture, said she'd love to develop a squash variety that could help improve Americans' diet and local farmers' profitability.
Laura Bruner, an Ohio State University sophomore, slices a squash, although it's likely she won't eat it.
She adds, however, that she knows the formidable challenge she's up against.
"Not a lot of people eat a lot of squash," she said. "We're really like a fast-food nation where we eat a lot of stuff on the go. And we like our sugars and our grease."
For Miss Bruner, the softball questions in this week's interviews might be about her statistical analyses of how the genetic structure of squash affects its sugar content and texture.
This is her third year to compete at the National FFA Convention, where top awards are handed out in the organization that has more than 495,000 members in more than 7,200 chapters.
Most members are high school students, but graduates, such as Miss Bruner and Miss Miller, can remain members and compete for two years after they finish high school.
Last year Miss Bruner was one of eight finalists for the organization's Agri-Science Student of the Year. The year before that she won second place in her division in the organization's science fair.
Miss Miller, however, is Wauseon FFA's first national finalist since 1986.
And for FFA chapters from adjoining school districts to each have a national finalist is unusual.
The FFA, which years ago was called Future Farmers of America but changed its name to its initials to better reflect the wide variety of agricultural careers its members were choosing, has 49 proficiency contests.
With four finalists in each contest, that puts Miss Bruner and Miss Miller among 196 such winners from across the country, including eight others from Ohio and one from Michigan.
They've already won $500 by being named national finalists. Over the summer, judges sorted through applications from state winners to come up with the finalists who will be interviewed this week. Ohio, for instance, submitted 46 state winners; 10 were named finalists.
And there's more at stake in this week's interviews. One of the four finalists in each category will be named the national winner on stage on Friday and presented with another $500 in front of about 17,000 applauding FFA members wearing the organization's trademark blue corduroy jackets with gold lettering.
About 55,000 people are expected to attend the FFA convention in all, but seats in the auditorium where the proficiency awards are presented are limited.
In their interviews, the young women also will compete for one of the 49 seats on a 10-day agricultural study trip to Costa Rica in June. Judges can award the trip and the first-place award to the same competitor or they can split up the prizes among two youth.
Even if the Fulton County women don't win either contest, the words "national finalist" should look good on their resumes.
And those words are a recruiting tool both for their FFA chapters and their employer, who hires about a dozen students a year.
"Boy, if I was Roger Rupp at Rupp Seeds, I'd just be tickled pink," said Eric Richer, a Wauseon FFA adviser.
"I think it's very unique and very special."
Contact Jane Schmucker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-337-7780.
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