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Say Yes!

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FFA National Officer Karstyn Cantrell

It was a Saturday last October, when Karstyn Cantrell heard her name announced from the National Convention Stage in Indianapolis. With a pounding heart, she realized her dream of becoming a National FFA Officer had come to fruition. Years of elation and heartbreak had all culminated in that moment, and it was all because she’d learned the value of saying “Yes!”

In the Blood

Karstyn Cantrell grew up on a fourth-generation cow-calf operation in the northeast Oklahoma town of Collinsville. Her great grandfather, Olin Lewis, had started a dairy co-op. While a dairy cow hasn’t stepped foot on the place since she’s been alive, her family still stores the yearly hay supply in that original dairy barn.

“When my father (Steve) was growing up, he started diving more into the Hereford side. He was big in FFA, and was Collinsville FFA Chapter President. I have an older brother, and when he was old enough to show, we changed a lot of the genetics of our ranch, going from more cow-calf animals to more show quality livestock,” Karstyn explained.

“I began showing when I was four years old, and my brother was my biggest mentor in the show ring. Now it’s something we continue today through a lot of the national shows,” she said.

Since she spent the entirety of her life in the agriculture industry, she made a pretty seamless transition from the green corduroy jacket of 4H to the blue and gold one of FFA. “I was always big in the show ring and thought that was where I was going to find my home, but as I got older, I really fell in love with things like livestock and dairy evaluation, and being active in the Agricultural Communications Career Development Events,” she recalled.

Naturally, Karstyn’s Supervised Agricultural Experience began as raising cattle on the ranch. As she got older, she added an agricultural sales SAE, where her family owns, maintains, and creates their own blends and custom show rations for cattle. “My junior year I decided to add a third component to my SAE with an agricultural communications side and started a blog where I posed weekly updates about things that were happening in Oklahoma Legislature that affected the industry. I’d also post show results, and information about different camps, contests, conferences, and conventions. I would see profit from my blog based off of every thousand views that I got.”

While agriculture has definitely always been part of Cantrell’s story, for a long time, it looked like volleyball would hold the most important chapters. Her mother, Michelle Cantrell, was the head volleyball coach at Owasso Public Schools, and Karstyn grew up watching the teams win state tiles. “I knew volleyball was going to be the lifestyle for me. I honestly contemplated choosing the college career for volleyball. I played club and school and sand, and while FFA was fun, that wasn’t where my focus was,” she admitted.

Then fate stepped in during her junior year, and health issues forced her to stop playing volleyball.

Her decision made for her, she began diving more into FFA.

Already a chapter officer her junior year, she was looking for a new passion. She had thought running for an Oklahoma State FFA Officer might fill the void left from volleyball, but it wasn’t until she was visiting with a fellow FFA Officer that she made the decision. “My friend Kaitlan (Teague) and I were talking about what our life was like, and how FFA had really helped us grow up,” she recalled. “I told her I had to be a State Officer.”

Unfortunately, the time that Karstyn would be campaigning for the position of Northeast Area Vice President was right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. “That meant all the chapter conferences, speech contests, livestock shows … all those things were closed down. I did a lot of virtual conversations to just maintain the relationships that I had already created. Instead of being the person who was in place at all the events, I really got to refine the connections I already had,” she recalled.

One of the coolest moments of an Oklahoma State Officer’s tenure happens during State Convention, but, once again, those plans changed. “Normally you’re surrounded by thousands of people, and you’re standing arm-in-arm with every single candidate on the convention floor,” she explained.

But because of the restrictions in place, Karstyn and her family learned of her win in a much cozier setting.

“I actually got to watch my name get called surrounded by my parents, grandparents, brother, teachers, family, and a lot of friends. We had a cookout that day, and what would have normally been a stressful environment was really fun. We were able to reflect on what FFA has meant to not only me, but also my family,” she said.

When her name was announced, the celebration was on. “I’ll never forget sitting on the floor when they called my name. All of a sudden, we were hugging each other in a big dog pile, and there was confetti and all that stuff,” she said with a laugh.

“I can’t imagine what my life would look like if I had chosen to go down the volleyball route, especially as I think about my senior year, when I was running for a state office in a time of COVID. So much of my life changed that year,” she said. “At the same time, going down path of serving as a state officer has brought me to where I am now.”

Lessons Learned

Karstyn served as the Northeast Area Vice President for the 2020-2021 year. Following the State FFA Convention in May 2021, she began the Oklahoma process of becoming a National Officer.

“Every state gets one candidate, so for me, the process included going through interviews and conversations with industry stakeholders within Oklahoma FFA. I had the opportunity to secure Oklahoma’s bid in June 2021,” she explained.

But at the 2021 National FFA Convention, her name was not called to go on stage as a new National Officer.

“It was an incredibly humbling experience to be standing on the Convention floor and watching six awesome people go up on stage after their name was called, and be one of the people who were not,” she admitted. “I can honestly say I experienced more growth within the last year than I could imagine, just because of that circumstance. It really allowed me the opportunity to find who I was in and out of the blue and gold jacket, which better prepared me to go through the process again this past year.”

She expanded on that, and added, “That taught me so much about hard work and persisting through issues. I know, for National FFA, there are more than 850,820 FFA members that we get to serve, and each and every one has faced adversity in some form or fashion.

“So for me that taught me to continue pushing through to find out what gives me joy as I walk through those difficult circumstances, and I can share that with others,” she said.

Getting There

“Something my parents have always encouraged me to do is say yes to opportunities, so that I can figure out the places I need to grow,” she explained.

That advice has been taken to heart, as Karstyn is involved in many clubs, organizations, and programs on the Oklahoma State University campus, including Ferguson College of Ag VP, Chi Omega Sorority, Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow Club, Collegiate Farm Bureau Club, Student Network Alumni Ambassador Team, OSU Steering Committee, and OSU’s Student Government Association.

“I’ve always had my foot in a lot of different circles, but I think it’s cool to see that each of those have instilled a lot of different characteristics in me,” she said. 

Karstyn is an Agricultural Communications major with a minor in Legal Studies. After her gap year serving as a National Officer, she hopes to return to OSU to finish her degree. “I would like to enter a law program, so I can hopefully serve Oklahoma once again in the agricultural policy field,” she said.

When asked what she would tell a young student contemplating joining FFA, her answer was simple. Say yes!

“Say yes. Go to that camp, that conference, that convention, and every time there is a chance to sign their name up, they should do it. That’s how they figure out their place. I tried lots of things that didn’t’ work for me, but they pointed me to what would be a better fit. As  a student, you never know what experiences can change your life,” she said.

Read more great stories in the latest issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Lacey’s Pantry – Beef Chimichangas

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Servings: 8

Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

1-2 cups vegetable oil

½ cup diced white onion

2 tsp minced garlic

½ TBSP chili powder

¼ tsp oregano

½ tsp ground cumin

1 lb. ground beef

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ to a full can of Rotel tomatoes and green chilis

8 (burrito-sized) flour tortillas, warmed

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Toppings: salsa, sour cream, guacamole, queso

Instructions:

Brown hamburger meat and onions in a large skillet until onions are slightly softened. Add in garlic chili powder, oregano and cumin. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in Rotel. Cook and stir another five minutes. Set aside.

Warm tortillas in the microwave. On each tortilla, place about ½ cup of meat mixture. Do not overfill. Top with shredded cheese. Fold sides over the meat and cheese, then fold bottom over the sides and roll up. Place all folded chimichangas, seam side down, on a large plate and repeat with remaining tortillas.

In a separate large skillet, pour enough vegetable oil to fill 2 inches full of oil. Heat oil over low heat. The oil needs to reach 375 degrees. Using tongs, lower one chimichanga at a time into the hot oil, seam side down. Fry until golden brown on both sides, 1-2 minutes on each side. Place cooked chimichangas on a paper towel lined place to absorb oil. Repeat with the rest of the chimichangas. Serve warm with your favorite toppings.

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Protecting Pollinators: Strategies for Supporting Bee Populations in Oklahoma

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Pollinators, especially bees, play a crucial role in our ecosystem and agricultural landscape. They are responsible for pollinating many of the crops that we rely on for food production. However, bee populations worldwide have been declining due to various factors, including habitat loss, pesticide use, disease, and climate change. In Oklahoma, where agriculture is a significant industry, protecting pollinators is of utmost importance. Here we explore some strategies for supporting bee populations in Oklahoma and why it’s essential for the health of our environment and economy.

Understanding the Importance of Bees

Before delving into strategies for protecting bee populations, it’s essential to understand why bees are so vital. Bees are one of the most effective pollinators, playing a crucial role in the reproduction of flowering plants, including many crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Without bees, the pollination process would be severely disrupted, leading to reduced crop yields and potentially threatening food security.

In Oklahoma, bees contribute significantly to the state’s agricultural economy by pollinating crops like cotton, canola, alfalfa, and various fruits and vegetables. According to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry, pollinators contribute over $157 million annually to the state’s economy. Therefore, protecting bee populations is not only essential for environmental conservation but also for the economic sustainability of agriculture in Oklahoma.

Challenges Facing Bee Populations in Oklahoma

Despite their importance, bee populations in Oklahoma, like elsewhere, face numerous challenges that threaten their survival. One of the primary threats is habitat loss due to urbanization, agricultural expansion, and land development. As natural habitats disappear, bees lose the food sources and nesting sites they need to thrive.

Furthermore, the use of pesticides, including neonicotinoids and other chemical treatments, poses a significant risk to bee populations. Pesticides can harm bees directly through poisoning or indirectly by contaminating their food sources and disrupting their reproductive cycles. Climate change also exacerbates the challenges faced by bees, affecting flowering patterns, altering habitat suitability, and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events.

Strategies for Supporting Bee Populations

While the challenges facing bee populations are daunting, there are several strategies that individuals, farmers, and policymakers can implement to support bee populations in Oklahoma:

  1. Creating Pollinator Habitat: One of the most effective ways to support bees is by creating and preserving pollinator-friendly habitat. This can include planting native wildflowers, flowering trees, and shrubs that provide bees with a diverse and abundant source of nectar and pollen. Additionally, leaving natural areas, such as meadows and hedgerows, untouched can provide essential nesting sites for solitary bees.
  2. Reducing Pesticide Use: Minimizing the use of pesticides, especially bee-toxic chemicals like neonicotinoids, is crucial for bee conservation. Farmers can adopt integrated pest management (IPM) practices that prioritize non-chemical methods of pest control, such as crop rotation, biological control, and using pest-resistant crop varieties. When pesticides are necessary, they should be applied judiciously, following label instructions and avoiding spraying during times when bees are most active.
  3. Supporting Organic Agriculture: Organic farming practices that eschew synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are inherently more bee-friendly. By supporting organic agriculture and purchasing organic products, consumers can help create demand for farming methods that prioritize environmental sustainability and pollinator health.
  4. Educating the Public: Increasing public awareness about the importance of bees and the threats they face is essential for fostering support for bee conservation efforts. Educational initiatives can include school programs, community workshops, and public outreach campaigns that highlight the role of bees in food production and the steps individuals can take to protect them.
  5. Collaborating with Stakeholders: Protecting bee populations requires collaboration among various stakeholders, including farmers, landowners, conservation organizations, government agencies, and researchers. By working together, these groups can develop and implement comprehensive strategies for conserving bee habitat, reducing pesticide exposure, and promoting bee-friendly farming practices.

Conclusion

Protecting pollinators, particularly bees, is a critical priority for environmental conservation and agricultural sustainability in Oklahoma. By implementing strategies such as creating pollinator habitat, reducing pesticide use, supporting organic agriculture, educating the public, and collaborating with stakeholders, we can help support bee populations and ensure their continued role in pollinating our crops and maintaining ecosystem health. By taking action now, we can secure a future where bees thrive, benefiting both our environment and our economy.

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References:

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry. (n.d.). Pollinators in Oklahoma. Retrieved from https://www.oda.state.ok.us/food/fs-pollinators.htm

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. (2022). Neonicotinoids. Retrieved from https://xerces.org/neonicotinoids

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2022). Climate Change and Human Health – Heat Impacts on Pollinators. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/translational/peph/webinars/heat-impacts-on-pollinators/index.cfm

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022). Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/integrated-pest-management-ipm-principles

Organic Trade Association. (n.d.). Why Buy Organic? Retrieved from https://www.ota.com/why-buy-organic

Pollinator Partnership. (n.d.). Education & Outreach. Retrieved from https://www.pollinator.org/education-outreach

United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Partnerships for Pollinators. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/06/24/partnerships-pollinators

These references provide a comprehensive overview of the topics discussed in the article, including the importance of pollinators, the challenges they face, and strategies for supporting bee populations in Oklahoma.

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Western Housewives – April 2024

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I am a mother. I do not know about the rest of you mothers, but the second I became “Mom,” my life became a constant state of wondering if I am doing a good job.

That is especially hard to tell when you choose to homeschool. I have no feedback from anyone that is not family. No teacher conferences telling me the little girl talks too much or the oldest boy can not sit still. Sure, I could ask my husband how he thinks our kids are maturing emotionally and intellectually. Still, he would most likely look out the window and see the aforementioned children running around in the sand with only socks on. He would then look at me and ask me to make him a quesadilla. I would say yes, we would joke about socks, and life would go on. See? Zero feedback to go on here.

So, you start to rely on personal experiences. You come up with little tests throughout your days to rate your kids “ready for society” level.

Example 1: A trip to the big city where the kids treat the grocery store as their personal snack depot. They successfully eat all the grapes and a whole block of cheese in your basket before you can check out. As you leave, they tell the door greeter, “Have a nice day.”

Example 2: Your husband enters an indoor rodeo. You are bouncing the baby and notice your oldest child is eating a bag of dippin dots. First, you smile and then remember that she has no money. Come to think of it, the concession stand is not even open. You have now concluded your firstborn has broken into the closed concession stand with her posse of four-year-old convicts and has helped herself to some ice cream.

Example 3: You are in church. The children have managed to be nice and quiet the entire time. After the message and the closing “Amen” is said, your three-year-old turns to you and says, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

After a little while, you start to question your “Ready for Society” tests. Are they productive? Are they accurate? I figure the answer to that question is better left unanswered.

One evening this summer, after I had quit conducting all these tests, I was mourning the loss of my children’s place in society when I looked up and noticed all our horses running down our driveway, headed for the neighboring pastures. For a minute, I just sat there wondering what I should do. I was holding the baby and wearing the ever-practical slip-on loafer and had absolutely no idea what was for supper. That had nothing to do with the horses being out, but that is part of being a housewife, I guess. You always wonder if you left the iron on and what is for supper.

While I sat there stunned, pondering life’s biggest questions, my husband and my daughter yelled at me to get a move on as they were already springing into action. My husband ran to stop them, and my daughter was on her way to the barn for some halters. Meanwhile, I was tripping over my loafers, scaring the horses and making already stressful matters much worse.

My husband finally got the horses cornered at the far end of our neighbor’s pasture and waved at me for some assistance. I handed the baby to my daughter and told her to watch the boys and stay in the house while I headed to help.

Within 30 minutes, we caught the horses and led them back to the corrals. I was in a near state of panic, wondering how long the boys had been crying and what state of mind my daughter was in, having just witnessed her dad nearly sweat to death and her mother make terrible fashion choices.

To my surprise, as I walked up to the house, I saw three happy children on the porch eating a supper of plums and peaches. The boys laughed at their sister as she shuffled little cars and cows around for them to play with. Not only had she fed and entertained her brothers, but she had also cleaned the house and fed the chickens to boot. I just stood there quietly watching for a while, not wanting to disturb the moment.

After the kids passed their first ever Ready for Society test, I realized that society’s standards versus my own were probably quite different. Society tells me that my kids need to be clean and quiet. Seen but not heard. Able to recite the ABCs on command but have no opinion on political matters. To be kind to everyone but never bring up God’s name and what He has to do with it. Society says my kids should fall into the assembly line and attend a good college someday to get a good minimum-wage job.

Why would I want my kids to fit into society when I do not even fit into society? No, I think I will keep my dirty little misfits all to myself. I think I will continue raising them to know how to care for themselves and each other. I will continue to show them how to serve God and work hard. I will continue to raise them never to wear slip-on shoes in the pasture and that plums and peaches are a totally acceptable supper on a warm summer evening.

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