INDIANAPOLIS — Sustainable agriculture is a part of the agriculture industry that’s rapidly growing in size and importance, and Marin Lonnee has been working to make a difference in this field since elementary school.
Lonnee started participating in science fairs when she was a fourth grader, and she said it was her agriculture teacher who encouraged her to take things to the next level a few years later.
“The state of Georgia does require students who are in … FFA classes to have a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project,” Lonnee said. “I was notified by the ag teacher at the time that I could use my agriscience project that I was already presenting at other events as a sixth grader, and so it kind of just built from that. And I was just lucky to have that mentor in my life to tell me that at the time.”
Lonnee, now a member of Oconee County FFA in Georgia, has an SAE focused on multiple areas of research, all generally unified under the banner of sustainability.
“It’s not just plant science and it’s not just animal science,” she said. “All my projects focus on … agriculturally dependent communities and developing them so that they are more productive and sustainable.”
These projects include research into bee pollination, hydroponics, plant pathology, plant breeding and even structural development. Despite her years of experiments, Lonnee said what she’s actually most proud of are the connections she’s made with other people in her field.
Marin credited her love for community-focused agriculture to the unconventional, ag-focused curriculum of her third-grade teacher, Diane Parr.
“We did a lot of growing our own produce that got donated to soup kitchens locally,” Lonnee said. “She made it very community-oriented.”
Lonnee received an undergraduate degree in only three years, and now she’s looking to earn a master’s degree in forage research so she can continue doing what she loves.
“I’ve never worked in what people would call a normal job,” she said. “I’ve always worked in a lab, and it’s opened so many doors.”
Lonnee’s advice for FFA members starting their own SAE is twofold: find something that interests you and remember that agriculture is more than just farming.
“Don’t let someone tell you it’s not related to ag because you’re not directly working with cows [or] corn,” she said.
About the American Star Awards
Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of an SAE. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing, by either owning or operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business, or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. were nominated by a panel of judges who then interviewed the finalists this fall. Four were named winners during the 95th National FFA Convention & Expo this year, which was held in Indianapolis. Winners received cash awards. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health, PepsiCo and Syngenta sponsor the awards.
General convention sessions will be aired live on RFD-TV and The Cowboy Channel. FFA members and supporters can tune in and watch gavel-to-gavel coverage of the event. To learn more, visit Convention.FFA.org.
The National FFA Organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization of more than 850,000 student members as part of 8,995 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
–Kristy Meyer, National FFA Organization