Learning the Kraft: Montana student vies for FFA national office | TSLN.com

Learning the Kraft: Montana student vies for FFA national office

Kelsey Kraft, a 2017 graduate of Laurel (Mont.) High School, was a Montana State FFA officer for 2017-2019. She made it through Phase 2 of the interviewing for the 2018-2019 National FFA Officer team

One of Montana's finest got the chance to test her skills Oct. 20-27 at the National FFA convention in Indianapolis.

Kelsey Kraft, a sophomore at Montana State University in Bozeman, went through the process to become a National FFA officer.

And even though she didn't get chosen, the learning process, and her years of FFA, have been invaluable to her.

She grew up the daughter of Rick and Brenda Kraft on the family's farm and ranch between Billings and Laurel. The family business consists of mother cows, a feedlot, a farrow to finish hog operation, and corn, barley and hay production.

She started showing pigs at age seven, and two years later, added cattle, showing at the Yellowstone County Fair, the Montana Fair, and the NILE.

As a student at Laurel High School, Kraft became involved in ag education and FFA. It was her passion. "I was very motivated to help our chapter get the spark and keep the interest," she said. When she started, fellow students weren't excited about winning competitions or doing well. Kraft worked to change the morale in the chapter.

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She introduced two projects that have continued past her time in high school. The Laurel FFA chapter began a new fundraiser, selling "Montana Made" boxes. The chapter bought items made in Montana, boxed them, and sold them to be delivered right before Christmas. The other thing Kraft began was an alumni chapter that has helped with funding to send Laurel FFA youth to nationals and to build a greenhouse for studying hydroponics and aquaponics.

She was part of her chapter's livestock judging team, winning the state competition as a junior and competing at nationals her senior year. She served as secretary, reporter, vice president and president. Her freshman year, Kraft decided she wanted to be a state officer. She pushed herself, attending camps and helping her chapter as much as possible.

She served as the 2017-18 Montana state reporter. One person from each state can pursue a national FFA officer title; Kraft was Montana's representative.

The National FFA officer interview process is rigorous. It lasts seven days with multiple intensive interviews and mock simulations of media interviews, workshops, and impromptu questions, assessing each candidate's knowledge of agriculture and ability to think on their feet.

Forty-two students went through Phase 1; twenty-three were called back to Phase 2. Kraft was among those 23. The competition was tough, she said. "Looking at those 42 candidates, you could have picked six names out of a hat and all of them would have done great. You're looking at people who are the best in their state." She enjoyed the competition and the learning experiences it included. "It was an honor to get that far in the process and represent my state. It was pretty cool to go through the process. I definitely learned a lot."

Jim Rose, Kraft's state FFA advisor, said her personality and relatability served her well on the state board. "She's a hard worker, and with her great personality, she can relate with others really well."

In addition to Kraft's National FFA officer interviews, she enjoyed seeing President Trump speak at the convention on Oct. 27. The first sitting president since Pres. George H.W. Bush to take up the invitation extended annually to the president, Trump was the first president since Bush in 1991 to address the convention goers.

He was well received, Kraft said. "People went crazy, especially when he first came out on stage," she said. The first part of his speech dwelt on tariffs, trade wars and taxes, and students didn't respond strongly, till he started talking about the importance of FFA and ag education. "That's when a lot of students were standing up, cheering loud," she said. "Everyone was happy to see a president there, and happy to see he was supporting ag."

North Dakota ag teacher Misty Steeke took her Scranton High School FFA chapter to the national convention. Her students were impressed with President Trump's speech. During his hour and twenty minute speech, the president brought the American Star Award winners (Star Farmer, Star in Agribusiness, Star in Agriscience, and Star in Agricultural Placement) to the stage, where he read their bios and shook their hands several times.

The chapter had planned on leaving during the day on Oct. 27, but decided to stay to see Trump speak. It made for a 16-hour day of travel on Oct. 28, heading back home.

One of Steeke's students commented, "I won't remember how tired I am on Monday, but I'll always remember I got to see President Trump."

Steeke's husband, Trevor, a former ag teacher, helped drive to the convention. He has seen two presidents at the national convention: Trump this year, and George H. W. Bush in 1991.

As a sophomore at Montana State, Kraft is earning a double major in ag education and elementary education, to make herself more marketable. She would like to live her adult life in a rural community, and if she would end up in a town where there was already an ag teacher, she could still have a teaching job.

In high school, her focus wasn't sports. After competing her freshman year in volleyball and cheerleading, she knew she didn't want to spend her time on practice and camps. "I realized my passion was in speaking and clubs." In addition to FFA, she was an officer in the Business Professionals of America, the National Honor Society, and a member of the Link Crew, upperclassmen who mentored freshmen.

Kraft also clogged. After having seen it at a polka fest she attended with her grandma, she wanted to do it. She clogged for more than 10 years, teaching it for four years and winning the National Clogging Championship in 2016 as part of the Wildwood Cloggers of Billings. Along with her sister and cousin, they clogged as part of the talent competition at the National FFA Convention three years ago.

She loved her days in FFA. "I was an FFA nerd," she said. Being a part of an ag education class and FFA exposes students to new career choices and areas. "Agriculture is so wide, it goes from animals to business. If you're the type of person who doesn't know what they want to do with their life, getting into an ag class and getting a taste of everything will show you some talents you didn't know you had."

She speaks from experience. Kraft tried horticulture in high school and found a discipline she enjoyed, making bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres. "I had no idea I would enjoy that so much. You never know what you have a knack for till you try it."

The state of Montana has had seven national officers throughout the years. The most current one was Chase Rose, the son of Jim Rose. Chase served in 2009-10 as the vice president of the central region.

The 2018-19 National FFA Officer team is Luke O'Leary, national president (California, a student at Texas A&M University); Layne LeBlanc, national secretary (a student at Louisiana State); Adrian Schunk, eastern region vice president (a student at Michigan State University); Ridge Hughbanks, central region vice president (a student at Oklahoma State); Jordan Stowe, southern region vice president (a student at Auburn University), and Shea Booster, western region vice president (a student at Oregon State University.) F