Fourteen members of the Firebaugh Future Farmers of America chapter recently returned from their eight-day trip across the United States to attend the 96th annual FFA National Convention and Expo.

The students and chaperones, Darlene Demmers and Gene Lieb, departed from the San Francisco airport early on Oct. 31.

“It was exciting waiting when I first boarded the plane and when the plane was lifting off, I felt this rush like I was on a rollercoaster. After that, it felt like all the nervousness went away,” Isaiah Martinez recalls, one of few students who had never been on a plane before.

There was one layover in Chicago, where many students experienced watching snowfall for the first time. But soon thereafter, the group boarded the next flight to Indianapolis, Indiana.

The following day marked the first opening session for the FFA National Convention. The students from Firebaugh spent the day at the convention center visiting several booths and learning about different careers in agriculture at pop-up stands. Later that afternoon, the group walked to the Lucas Oil Stadium, (better known as the football stadium housing the Indianapolis Colts), to attend the first session of the event.

“Being able to connect with others on the dance floor and seeing the parade of the state flags was fun,” Ashley Serna said. “It was a very fun experience just to see so many people in our organization.”

After a busy night and early morning, the group visited a local goldfish farm, taking a tour of the facility and learning about the step-by-step process for delivering live fish, starting from growing the fish from new.

Shortly following the tour was a trip to the Indianapolis Speedway, where the famous Indianapolis 500 Race takes place. There was a 30-minute bus ride around the racetrack, where the Firebaugh FFA members got off to kiss the bricks that marked the finish line as a sign of good luck. Once in the main building, members guided themselves through the history of car racing.

Later that day, the 14 students traveled a short journey to Beasley’s Apple Orchard, where they listened to a presentation by the owner of the farm about the way their apples are grown and the processes that lead to fruit production. They were also driven on a tour of the apple orchards and participated in other activities like a corn maze and apple shooting.

The event planned for that evening was a popular play put on at Beef and Boards called “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which was definitely a favorite of the group.

“I like how it was a satire play, like when they randomly had Elvis come in and be the emperor,” Anabelle Alaniz said. “I think my favorite scene was when they had their ‘70s costumes on, it was so fun with all the bright colors and watching the audience get into it and start clapping.”

Gaby Rodriguez said, “I loved the play because I have never experienced anything like it before. I loved the song choice and the different genres they sang.”

On Nov. 3, the Firebaugh group traveled by car to Kentucky to visit three places: Hermitage Farm, Churchill Downs, where the famous Kentucky Derby takes place, and the Louisville Slugger Museum. Hermitage Farm taught the students about the care provided to both the retired racehorses and foals, guided the group through greenhouses and discussed vegetation and produce production.

The following day, the students visited an exotic feline rescue center and participated in a walking tour. The guide shared information about the felines and how they found a home at the center. The tigers were a favorite, as students were able to see them from a few feet away in their enclosures.

That afternoon, the group of 16 packed up its suitcases and went to the airport once again to catch a flight to Washington, D.C.

Bright and early the next morning, the group began on its next adventures in a new state, with the Smithsonian National Zoo first on the list.

Joshua Ovalles said his favorite part of the zoo was the bird exhibit. “Birds have always just been fascinating to me and seeing all the different varieties was definitely the best part.”

After the zoo, the students went to the Holocaust Museum and learned more about the historical event, its victims, and its survivors. The tour was self-paced and the group was able to walk down four stories of the museum, stopping to view what they wanted for roughly two hours.

On the evening of the first day in DC, the FFA members walked to the Kennedy Center where they experienced the popular interactive play, Shear Madness. 

One student described the play as incredible, saying she loved how the actors incorporated the audience. “My favorite part was the switch of lights when the actor pointed at us, breaking the fourth wall,” Viviana Jasso said. She also mentioned her liking of the theater overall, saying it was one of her top three events of the trip.

The following day the group visited the United States Capitol and toured the facility with a guide. The tour consisted of visiting several areas inside and stopping from room to room to allow the guide to share some history about different statues and special paintings.

Arlington Cemetery was next on the list to visit. Four students representing Firebaugh FFA, Randall Coffman, Samuel Hernandez, Anabelle Alaniz, and Ashley Serna, participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A special thanks goes out from the FFA members to Ronnie and Maurine Parker, who donated the beautiful wreath for the ceremony.

Randall Coffman said, “It was an exhilarating experience and such an honor to get the opportunity to show respect for our fallen and active soldiers.”

The Monuments by Moonlight tour took place that evening, and students enjoyed visiting nationally recognized monuments such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument and the Lincoln Monument. 

The last day had finally come, and the last tour left on the list was the White House. The group walked through the White House at their own pace and were able to read about the different rooms and their uses.

With that, the students packed their luggage and traveled to the airport to board their final plane of the trip, flying back over the states to San Francisco.

“My favorite part of the tour was the Beasley’s Apple Farm that we went to because I feel like we were all able to have fun and fully enjoy the activities. We were able to have fun as a group and bond with each other more. I also loved the moments during the car rides and we would sing along to the music,” Odalis Reyes said.

Samantha Rangel