REDMOND — The Newberg High School FFA program had yet another strong showing at the Oregon FFA State Convention, highlighted by four first-place agri-science experiments and two State FFA degrees.
Seniors Mariah Lemen and Abigayle Darula earned the highest award the state FFA association bestows after completing numerous projects, assuming leadership positions and passing a 50-question agricultural knowledge test. Lemen's supervised agricultural experience (SAE) and projects came in ag sales and service, as well as food products and processing, while Darula specialized in horses and also worked at a local winery.
"The state degree is a huge deal," Newberg agriculture teacher Bailey Field said. "They have to have earned or invested at least $1,500 or completed at least 900 hours in their projects. To put that into perspective, they also have to have at least 360 hours of ag high school instruction."
Juniors Todd Halleman and John McCarthy built upon their previous state-winning environmental science experiment involving bullfrog behavior near predatory objects.
In an attempt to isolate some of the variables that may have contributed to the results of the first experiment, the duo expanded upon their blue heron cutout, which proved to scare bullfrogs away when they were placed near it. This time they also tested a raccoon-shaped cutout, as well a plastic bag on a stick, which introduced a non-animal shape with color and movement.
"It ended up that the shape of the object did matter because the bullfrogs reacted to both the heron- and the raccoon-shaped objects, but when the plastic bag was placed near them it had no effect on them," McCarthy said.
Senior Kylie Holveck also earned first place in the environmental science category for her experiment on the ability of mealworms and super worms to consume Styrofoam.
Spurred by a video from Stanford University that touted the ability of bugs to eat plastic, Holveck set out to examine if that were true in the case of Styrofoam, which is poisonous to mammals and is seen as an environmental scourge because it takes thousands of years to degrade in landfills.
"The results were surprising," Holveck said. "There was no mortality in the mealworms or super worms provided they were given moisture and extra stuff to help them."
Holveck found that the worms even preferred the Styrofoam to goldfish-shaped crackers, although not as much as lettuce or other produce.
Like Halleman and McCarthy, Holveck is continuing work on the experiment so as to include more data before she submits her application for review by national judges, who will pick a select few projects in each category to present their work at the national convention in the fall.
"To compete at the national level for absolutely anything is a really exciting chance," Field said. "To have six students qualify for that is really cool, especially for a first-year ag teacher."
Specifically, Holveck is measuring how much the worms will eat on average in a month.
"Then I'm going to try to test the frass, which is their excrement, to see if those harmful chemicals are still present because that frass could actually be used for plants to aid in growth like a fertilizer," Holveck said. "If the bacterium couldn't digest that and it's still in the frass, then that's going to cause problems. It would still hurt the plants and be an environmental issue, so that's what I'm going to look into next."
Also winning for Newberg were sophomores Kennedy Rainey and Cody Cox, who won their division of the social science category for their survey work on customer knowledge and preference of raw versus pasteurized honey.
As opposed to doing live trials and one-on-one interviews, the duo created a survey and distributed it on Facebook, which helped them draw 650 responses.
"By quite a bit raw honey was preferred, which was expected, but we weren't sure," Cox said. "What was surprising was how many people have had raw honey. We thought the numbers would be higher for store bought."
The most interesting aspect of the results to Rainey and Cox was the affect location had on preference and knowledge, as rural respondents were far more likely to be aware of the difference between raw and pasteurized honey and preferred raw by a 9-to-1 ratio.
Cox has been raising bees for about seven years and said the experiment will be helpful with his own marketing because he has actual data to include.
"With raw honey straight from the hive, that contains pollen. As you take in that little bit, it helps build up your body's immunity," Cox said. "So if you had a large pasture of poison oak, you could eat poison oak honey every day and get more immune to the poison oak toxins. With store-bought honey, that's been cooked out so there's no more pollen in there, so there are no health benefits."
Junior Alyssa Berry also competed in social science and took second place in her division for her survey about student perceptions on antibiotic and hormones in meat products. Although regulations prevent the harvesting and sale of meat products that actually contain antibiotics and hormones, the most common answer from NHS freshman as to how much antibiotics or hormones are present in any given piece of meat was a whopping 65 percent.
"Being in Newberg, which is a weird conundrum of rural and not rural, we get to talk about all of these things," Field said. "Most of my students didn't grow up on a farm and if they did, it's grassy, not cows or pigs."
Newberg's fourth agri-science experiment winner was freshman Morgan Lemen, who tested various methods for preventing the browning of apples to take first in her division of the food products and processing category.
The experiment was spurred by a class discussion about a new genetically-modified apple that doesn't brown, but Lemen found the product Fruit Fresh performed quite well against a variety of methods.
Three students also earned prizes for their art submissions, including McCarthy, who earn second place in manufacturing art for a three-foot chinook salmon made out of metal. Darula also earned a runner-up award in the people category of the photography contest, with Kayla Boyd taking home third place in landscape photography.
Senior Jacob LaPointe was also named a top-five finalist for his SAE proficiency in diversified crop production. LaPointe spent his time growing wheat, grass seed, hazelnuts and clover and is now well on his way to earning his state degree, which he can do next year while in college.
All in all, the state convention proved to be a great experience for the students, as 11 of the 16 that attended were making their first trip, and for Bailey, who has been to 10 of them since her freshman year of high school, but went for the first time as a teacher with her own group.
"It's not all about the lights and the stage and the awards," Field said. "That's not often why we do what we do, but it makes it fun and pulls them in that way that they come back saying they're going to do it next year."