WHS senior reflects on FFA career
Pandemic forced changes in experiences.
WORTHINGTON — FFA chapters across Minnesota were in crunch time when the COVID-19 pandemic threw a virtual wrench into everything FFA members had been preparing for. Schools temporarily shuttered, Career Development Events were put on hold and ultimately, the 2020 Minnesota FFA Convention’s array of contests were cancelled.
It was a disappointing end to what could have been — perhaps should have been — a promising year for FFA members looking to earn their way back to state competition.
In November 2019, Worthington High School FFA member Sophie Wietzema was a junior competing on the chapter’s meats CDE team at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. The team garnered eighth place and Wietzema took 63rd individual overall, high enough for a silver placing.
While the national trip knocked her out of competing again on the meats team, she’d committed to helping recruit and teach a new set of contest participants with dedicated coaches Randy and Sarah Jacobs.
“I recruited some kids and we were meeting every Sunday (to practice), and then COVID came around and we couldn’t do anything,” Wietzema shared.
She’s hoping to help again here in 2021, though it appears contests will likely be virtual with the pandemic still affecting gatherings.
Wietzema joined the FFA meats team as a freshman, following in the footsteps of her older brother, Trevor. With their dad co-owning W-2’s Quality Meats in Worthington, it seemed like a natural fit. They grew up around the business, and had the advantage of knowing certain cuts of meats the shop packages.
Joining the meats team offered the younger Wietzema an opportunity to “one-up” her brother in competition. At the Minnesota FFA Convention in May 2019, she garnered 10th high individual along with the team’s first-place finish, tying her brother’s 10th place individual finish in the 2013 contest. The 2013 team also placed first at state, advancing to nationals, where they placed 10th of 43 teams.
It wasn’t just about besting her brother, though. The younger Wietzema found that despite her being around a meat shop, the contest offered many challenges. There were the more unusual cuts of meat to learn, as well an exam to study for. At nationals, the 60-question test quizzed members on such things as proper cooking temperatures for specific cuts of meat and where those meats come from on the animal.
“We went to Walmart and Hy-Vee because they have a wide variety of cuts of meat,” Wietzema said of studying for the team. “We had to learn lamb (cuts) and there’s also more specific cuts in pork, which was kind of hard.”
The education and experiences Wietzema gained on the meats team have furthered her knowledge as she works part-time at W-2’s. It’s one of her two Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE) — a project that involves keeping records on time worked and dollars earned.
In the FFA, Wietzema’s SAE records are evaluated for consideration in earning the Minnesota FFA Degree. To receive the degree, members must earn a minimum of $2,000 in their SAE or work 600 unpaid hours.
Wietzema completed the application process for the degree, but won’t learn until this spring if she will receive the honor. About half a dozen Worthington FFA Chapter members have applied for the degree this year.
At W-2’s, Wietzema assists her dad and other workers with packaging steaks, weighing out ground beef, running the meat grinder, assisting customers and ringing up sales.
“It’s a pretty simple job,” she said. “Before you hit 18, you can’t use any knives. I’ll be 18 in April.”
As the pandemic impacted the meat industry in the spring and summer of 2020, Wietzema logged lots of hours at the store. Online school and the cancellation of sports also made that possible.
“Before my sports started back up, I worked here pretty much every day,” she said. “During COVID … we were so busy.
“My dad and I got closer because we were working every day together,” she added. “He would be cutting, and I could be doing something with the grinder.”
Now, with basketball games and swim team, she has little time to help in the store.
Wietzema has competed on the swim team since she was 6 years old, and just finished up her final season last weekend. She completed training as a lifeguard as a high school sophomore, and logs her hours worked and dollars earned at the YMCA as a second SAE for the FFA.
With her involvement on the swim team, varsity girls basketball squad and jobs at W-2’s and the YMCA, Wietzema has little down time, and little time to participate in other activities in the FFA.
She’s been a member of the organization for all four years, and has enrolled in the Ag 9, 10, 11 and 12 courses. With band, choir and orchestra filling in the electives in her school schedule, she’s found little opportunity to take some of the other ag course offerings, though she did get into a large animal science class in the department as a senior. At the time she enrolled in the course, she was considering a possible career as a veterinarian.
Ideas change, though, as they often do, and Wietzema said she’s now considering a business major with the potential of earning licensure as a certified public accountant. She remains undecided on where she will attend college. This summer, she intends to work at W-2’s.
Wietzema said she’s enjoyed her time in the FFA and the agriculture program at Worthington High School.
“With Ag 12, we are exploring new colleges and we just filled out interview questions like applying for a job,” she said. “You learn a lot about life skills and about the agricultural field.”
While the pandemic cancelled much of students’ in-class time this year, along with field trips — including one to JBS — Wietzema is hopeful she and her classmates will still get to restore a tractor this spring. The project is an annual tradition for Ag 12 students.
“A lot of life skills you can take out of the FFA,” Wietzema said. “I would say the biggest thing has been leadership. I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills in the FFA.”