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WHS FFA Meats team adds to experience

Julie buntjer/Daily Globe WHS FFA Meats judging team members who recently competed at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo., include Trevor Wietzema (from left), Carson Hagen, Turner Hagen and Kirsten Aljets. The team is coached by Randy Jacobs (missing from photo).

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington High School FFA Meats team took third place in grading, fourth place in meat cut placing and sixth overall during the FFA meats judging invitational at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo., earlier this month.

Team members Turner and Carson Hagen, Kirsten Aljets and Trevor Wietzema earned the trip after garnering a second-place finish in the Minnesota FFA Convention's meats judging contest last spring. The first place team at state earns a trip to the National FFA Convention.

Joined by team coach Randy Jacobs and FFA Advisor Cody Dvorak, the group left Worthington Jan. 9, giving them an opportunity for a fun day of skiing prior to their Jan. 12 contest. They returned home Jan. 13.

While all four of the FFA members said the day of skiing was their favorite, they were also excited to get another opportunity to compete against other teams from across the U.S., including one group from Alaska. There was also a Canadian team participating in the contest.

The WHS team members plan to compete in the FFA meats region contest at South Dakota State University April 12, and earn the right to advance to the state FFA contest later that month. This time around, the team is hoping to take the top spot at state and secure a trip to compete at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., in November.

For now, though, they're taking a little break from looking at cuts of meat.

"We're taking about a month off," said Aljets. "We're off 'til the Super Bowl and then we'll start up again."

The team began preparing for the Denver contest when school began in August. Once a week for about an hour and a half, they would visit Coach Jacobs' house in Rushmore and practice placing cuts of meat.

Over the course of the past year, they have visited the SDSU Meat Lab a couple of times, and traveled to the Tyson beef plant at Dakota City, Neb., where they were the only high school FFA'ers testing their skills during a collegiate meats judging contest.

"We've gotten to go to a lot of fun places on the meats team," said Turner Hagen. He and Aljets are the two seniors on the team, and they have been members of the WHS FFA meats team since their freshman year.

Carson Hagen and Wietzema are sophomores and competing on the team for just their second year.

The contest in Denver showed how evenly matched the team members are, with Aljets and Carson Hagen garnering perfect scores on the meat cut placings. They all agreed that the identification portion of the contest was the most challenging.

"In Minnesota, we have a bit different I.D. (judging format) and we don't have a written exam," said Carson .

The Denver contest had just 30 cuts of meat to identify, compared to the 40 cuts in the Minnesota FFA state contest. The FFA members had to identify cuts of beef, pork and lamb in the contest.

"We were learning the new system they use -- the written exam and the new I.D. -- and we had to learn cookery," Carson said of the preparations they made prior to their trip to Denver.

The cookery portion of the contest had team members writing out formulas with the ingredients they would use to make, for example, a lowest-cost hamburger.

"It was a really long math equation," Wietzema said.

The contest lasted for about half a day, and while it was quite challenging, Aljets said it "was pretty fun."

In preparation for the actual judging event, they visited the University of Wyoming the day before the contest for a practice. The college's meats lab had 90 to 100 cuts of meat for the students to practice identification.

Numerous local donors helped fund 85 percent of the cost for the team to make the trip to Denver. The rest of the expense was covered by the FFA chapter.

"We appreciate that they donated for our cause," said Turner.

"It was a great experience," added Carson.

Jacobs has coached the WHS FFA meats team for the past six years. Team members expect they will be doing a lot more practicing over the course of the next few months with Jacobs as they gear up for the region and state contests.

"It's definitely challenging," Aljets said of the meats contest. "It's kind of fun when people ask what you do. They always ask, 'What meat should I buy?'"

The Hagen brothers said they are often consulted on meat purchases as well.

"I just like going to the store and picking out types of meat -- I sometimes critique the USDA," Carson said as his fellow teammates laughed.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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