Top FFA honors for Williams
WORTHINGTON — Laura Williams, a Fulda FFA graduate, captured the National FFA Proficiency Award in vegetable production entrepreneurship/placement during the 86th National FFA Convention last week in Louisville, Ky.
Initially selected as one of four finalists, Williams received two plaques and $1,000 from proficiency sponsors. Williams is the daughter of Kerry and Janna Williams of rural Brewster, and works in the family business, Williams Produce.
The family grows everything from cucumbers and tomatoes to melons and pumpkins on a 45-acre farm. Laura Williams began helping with sales at the age of 5, and took over sales at all farmer’s market events by age 11.
Today, she independently manages three acres in the business, growing cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes this past season, and is the farm’s order buyer for products they don’t grow locally. She plans to eventually work her way to the top of the business.
During the height of the vegetable season, from early July through the end of October, Williams travels to Elma (in northeast Iowa) three days per week for produce auctions conducted by Mennonites.
“I’ll buy produce there for grocery stores or people who go to farmer’s markets when we’re short,” she said, adding that she sometimes buys two to three truckloads of produce. “I’m one of the only girls there and the youngest buyer there — also one of the biggest buyers.”
Currently a student at Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls, S.D., Williams is majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship. Following her graduation next spring, she plans to return to the farm.
“My dad wants me to take it over when I’m done with college,” she said.
To earn the National FFA Proficiency award, Williams was required to complete records on her business, keeping track of both hours worked and dollars made during the course of her FFA career. In preparing her records for nationals, Williams noted that in the years since she began keeping records as a freshman FFA member, she tripled the amount of produce purchased at auction and doubled the number of farmer’s markets in which she sells produce.
“I want to continue to expand and be more efficient,” she said.
Williams has five employees who work for her. Overall, the farm has up to 12 employees at the height of the season.
“I really like the marketing part — going to the stores and working with customers and buyers and going to the auction,” she said.
During the off-season, she maintains contact with produce managers and gets to see their side of the business.
“I love doing it,” Williams said of her work. “It’s kind of my passion.”
Throughout her FFA career, Williams was guided by advisors Mike Pagel and Kelsey Klassen. She gives them abundant credit for her success.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without (them),” she said.
As part of her honor as a National FFA Proficiency winner, Williams was eligible to participate in a 10-day trip to Costa Rica next June. The nearly all-expenses-paid trip will take 49 FFA winners on a tour of Costa Rica’s agricultural areas, from a pineapple plantation to sugar cane and banana farms. They will also tour a coffee plantation that grows coffee beans for Starbucks.
“We’ll get to see a small vegetable farm, the rainforest … waterfalls, swim in hot springs,” Williams said. “We do a lot of touring.”
Williams earned first place over finalists from Wisconsin, California and Kentucky. During the National FFA Convention, the four finalists had to compete in interviews during which they faced a panel of judges.
Also from the southwest region of Minnesota, Skyler Vold of the Red Rock Central FFA Chapter at Lamberton was the proficiency winner in the area of Specialty Animal Production, entrepreneurship/placement. Vold works at an agricultural research center, where he raises and sustains eight colonies of crop pest insects. The insects are used for research and to sell.