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Augusta County student wins Youth Discussion Meet

Lauren Rhodes
Lauren Rhodes. Photo courtesy Virginia Farm Bureau.

Lauren Rhodes of Augusta County, a senior at Fort Defiance High School who is dual enrolled at Blue Ridge Community College, earned first place in the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Youth Discussion Meet, held virtually May 20.

First runner-up was Kate Shifflett of Page County, a member of the Luray High School FFA chapter and a dual-enrollment student at Lord Fairfax Community College. Other finalists were Zachary Lambert, Prince William County; Jackson Lohr, Rockingham County; Caitlin Mawby, Chesterfield County; and Celeste Mitchell, Cumberland County.

The Youth Discussion Meet competition is designed to simulate a committee meeting in which discussion and active participation are expected from each contestant. Competitors are judged on their discussion skills, understanding of important agricultural issues and ability to build consensus. The contest was hosted in conjunction with 4-H and FFA.

This year’s competition explored topics relevant to Virginia’s agricultural community. In the final round of discussion, youth were asked how the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to the food supply chain, how to resolve weaknesses in the system, and how to strengthen the industry for the future.

Competitors discussed local food sourcing, support for beginning farmers, reduction of food waste and how to develop opportunities for public education. They also shared details of their own agricultural experiences.

Rhodes has been involved with the Bridgewater 4-H Club for 11 years. She has been an FFA member for seven years and currently serves as president of her school’s FFA chapter. She plans to run for a state FFA officer position this month.

She was born into agriculture, having grown up around an Old Order Mennonite community.

“Agriculture has made a huge impact on my life, and I definitely hope to continue with that—being a multi-generational farmer and hopefully an advocate for agriculture in my future profession,” Rhodes said.

She plans to attend community college for two more years then transfer to Virginia Tech to major in communications and minor in agribusiness. Rhodes said she’ll pursue a career as an agriculture journalist or agriculture and conservation lobbyist.

Shifflett also was born into farm life, and said she loves it.

“My parents had a lot of trouble keeping me out of the cattle fields as soon as I learned how to walk!” she joked. “I’ve continued to develop that love.”

She plans to run for FFA state office and is soon headed to Virginia Tech to study animal and poultry sciences. Shifflett said she enjoyed the “tough” Discussion Meet.

“I think we have a lot of good, real-world solutions that I hope that Farm Bureau can go on and implement,” she said in her closing remarks.

The contest was sponsored by Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co. Rhodes earned a $1,000 cash scholarship, Shifflett earned a $500 cash scholarship, and finalists each received $250.

With 130,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to supporting Virginia’s agriculture industry.


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