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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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Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful

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By

Norman Winter

Horticulturist, Author and Speaker

National Poinsettia Day just passed, December 12 to be exact. While I am sure the powers to be wanted a celebratory type day, from what I have been seeing this year is this may have been a deadline day. This most likely applies to poinsettia partners too! If you are asking what a poinsettia partner is then put on your thinking cap and gather around.

Proven Winners got most of us to thinking partners when they introduced the concept of combining poinsettias with Diamond Frost euphorbias. This is one of the best ideas ever and we now actually have three choices, Diamond Frost, Diamond Snow with double flowers and Diamond Mountain that is the taller of the three.

To a horticulturist like myself this combination is so special because both the Poinsettia and the Diamond Frost are Euphorbias. That’s right, they are cousins. Just like Christmas, families visiting and long-lost cousins getting together. Of course, the main reason we like this idea is that the red, pink, or variegated poinsettia looks incredible, it’s as though it is sitting on a bed of snow or frost. I have found these to be more available at fine florists.

But if you are going to create your own and go plant shopping then keep in mind some other options you might want to-try. For instance, a couple of years ago Jenny Simpson of Creekside Nursery in Dallas North Carolina introduced us to not only using caladiums at Christmas but even in combinations with poinsettias. She used the Heart to Heart White Snowdrift caladiums which turned out to be a perfect partner with red poinsettias.

My time as Executive Director at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah GA taught me there are opportunities for outside use with poinsettias, particularly if you are astute at long range weather forecasting. First consider that Savannah is technically zone 8B with a proclivity to lean into zone 9. We used poinsettias in large planters surrounded by Silver Bullet Dusty Miller or artemisia.

A similar application gave me the opportunity of photographing pink poinsettias mass planted in an atrium-like setting and surrounded by gray leaved Icicles helichrysum. But the most obvious and perhaps easiest if you are getting a late start is to combine your poinsettias with another Christmas plant like cyclamen. White cyclamen around a red poinsettia can be simply breathtaking.

This year I have also been watching what I call the professional garden club ladies walking out of both florists and floral departments with holly berries. We all think of hollies on swags above the fireplace or front door, but two or three preserved branches loaded with red berries stuck in a pot of white poinsettias is quick, easy and unbeatable.

Red berries for Christmas, landscape beauty, and of course feeding the birds is a prime reason to grow winterberry hollies like the compact Berry Poppins. Consider also growing Berry Heavy Gold winterberry holly. Cutting branches of the gold berries to be used with red poinsettias makes a stunning partnership. Go to Proven Winners site, Winterberry Holly: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Colorful Berries. If you don’t have poinsettias yet make today your shopping day! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.

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Homesteading Skills: The Essentials for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

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Homesteading, once a way of life for our ancestors, is experiencing a resurgence in today’s world. As people seek greater self-sufficiency, a deeper connection with the land, and more sustainable lifestyles, homesteading skills have become not only practical but also deeply rewarding. In this article, we’ll explore the essential homesteading skills that can empower individuals and families to live more self-reliant and sustainable lives.

1. Gardening

At the heart of homesteading is the ability to grow your own food. Gardening is the foundation of self-sufficiency, and it’s a skill that can be cultivated no matter the size of your property. Key gardening skills include:

Soil preparation and composting

Seed starting and transplanting

Crop rotation and companion planting

Pest and weed management

Harvesting and food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, and drying

2. Animal Husbandry

Raising animals for food, fiber, and companionship is a fundamental aspect of homesteading. The skills related to animal husbandry include:

Care and feeding of livestock, such as chickens, goats, cows, or pigs

Breeding and reproduction management

Livestock housing and pasture management

Animal health and basic veterinary care

Dairy and meat processing if you’re raising animals for consumption

3. Food Preservation

To make the most of your garden’s bounty or the harvest from your livestock, knowing how to preserve food is essential. Food preservation skills include:

Canning fruits and vegetables

Fermentation for foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

Dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and herbs

Making homemade jams, jellies, and pickles

Smoking, curing, and other methods for meat preservation

4. Foraging and Wildcrafting

Homesteading often involves making the most of what nature provides. Learning to identify and use wild edibles and medicinals is a valuable skill:

Identifying edible wild plants and mushrooms

Harvesting herbs for teas, tinctures, and salves

Sustainable foraging practices to protect local ecosystems

Preserving wildcrafted items for later use

5. Beekeeping

Keeping bees not only provides a source of honey but also contributes to pollination on your property. Beekeeping skills include:

Setting up and maintaining beehives

Handling and managing bees safely

Harvesting and processing honey and beeswax

Identifying and addressing common bee health issues

6. Food Self-Sufficiency

Beyond gardening, you can work toward greater food self-sufficiency by learning skills like:

Seed saving to preserve heirloom and open-pollinated varieties

Raising and harvesting small livestock like rabbits or quail

Cultivating perennial food crops like fruit trees and berry bushes

Aquaponics or hydroponics for year-round food production

7. Basic Carpentry and DIY Skills

Homesteaders often find themselves needing to build and repair structures, tools, and equipment. Carpentry and DIY skills include:

Building raised beds, chicken coops, and animal shelters

Basic woodworking for constructing furniture and farm implements

Repairing and maintaining machinery like tractors and generators

Fencing and infrastructure construction for property management

8. Water Management

Managing water resources efficiently is crucial for sustainable living. Key skills include:

Rainwater harvesting and storage

Drip irrigation and water-saving techniques for gardening

Proper well maintenance and water testing

Building and maintaining ponds or water features for livestock and wildlife

9. Energy Independence

To live off the grid or reduce your environmental footprint, consider energy independence skills:

Solar panel installation and maintenance

Wind turbine installation and maintenance

Energy-efficient building design and retrofits

Off-grid living strategies for reduced reliance on public utilities

10. Soap and Candle Making

Homemade soaps and candles can reduce reliance on store-bought products. These skills include:

Making soap using cold or hot process methods

Crafting candles from beeswax, soy, or other materials

Adding scents and colors naturally

11. Herbal Medicine and Remedies

Homesteaders often turn to herbal medicine and remedies for self-sufficiency in healthcare:

Growing and harvesting medicinal herbs

Making tinctures, salves, and herbal teas

Natural remedies for common ailments

Basic first-aid and emergency care skills

12. Sewing and Textile Arts

Basic sewing skills are essential for making and repairing clothing, linens, and more. These skills include:

Hand and machine sewing techniques

Mending and darning clothing

Knitting, crocheting, and other textile arts

Crafting items like blankets, rugs, and quilts

Homesteading is not just a return to simpler times but a way to embrace self-sufficiency, sustainability, and a deeper connection with the land. While mastering all these skills may take time, the journey itself is a rich and rewarding experience. Homesteading is about learning, adapting, and continually improving your ability to live more independently and in harmony with the environment. Whether you have acres of land or a small urban plot, these essential homesteading skills can empower you to live a more self-reliant and sustainable life, fostering a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the process.

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Raising Chickens for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Raising chickens can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, whether you’re a homesteader looking to become more self-sufficient or a backyard enthusiast seeking fresh eggs for your family. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance animals, making them an excellent choice for beginners in the world of poultry farming. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essentials of raising chickens, from choosing the right breed to ensuring their health and happiness.

Selecting the Right Breed

Before diving into chicken-raising, it’s crucial to choose the right breed that suits your goals and environment. Different breeds have various characteristics, including egg-laying capacity, temperament, and adaptability. Here are some popular options for beginners:

Rhode Island Red: Known for their excellent egg production and hardiness.

Plymouth Rock: Friendly birds that lay brown eggs and adapt well to various climates.

Australorp: Record-holders for egg-laying, known for their docile nature.

Silkies: Unique and fluffy birds often kept as pets; they lay smaller eggs but are adorable companions.

Research the specific breeds available in your area and consider factors like climate and available space when making your selection.

Coop and Run Setup

Before bringing your chickens home, you’ll need to set up a safe and comfortable living space for them. A coop and run are essential components of your chicken-keeping setup:

Coop: The coop is where your chickens will sleep at night and lay their eggs. It should be well-insulated, predator-proof, and provide at least two to three square feet of space per chicken.

Run: The run is an outdoor area where your chickens can roam during the day. It should be fenced and covered to protect your birds from predators and provide shade.

Make sure to include roosting bars, nesting boxes, and adequate ventilation in your coop for a healthy environment.

Feeding Your Chickens

Chickens need a balanced diet to stay healthy and lay eggs regularly. You can feed them commercial chicken feed, which comes in various forms:

Starter Feed: For chicks up to six weeks old.

Grower Feed: For chicks aged six weeks to 20 weeks.

Layer Feed: For hens producing eggs.

Additionally, you can supplement their diet with kitchen scraps, vegetables, and grains. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Care and Health

Regular care and monitoring are essential to keeping your chickens healthy. Here are some key aspects of chicken care:

Regular Health Checks: Inspect your chickens for signs of illness or injury daily. Common issues include mites, respiratory infections, and injuries from pecking.

Disease Prevention: Vaccinate your chickens against common diseases to keep your flock healthy.

Egg Collection: Collect eggs daily to ensure they remain clean and prevent hens from brooding.

Clean Coop: Regularly clean the coop to prevent the buildup of waste and odors, which can attract pests.

Handling and Socializing

Chickens can be friendly and enjoy human interaction when handled gently. Spend time with your chickens, hand-feeding them treats to build trust. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises, which can startle them.

Understanding Egg Production

Egg production varies by breed and age. Hens typically start laying eggs at around 5-6 months old. The amount of daylight, diet, and stress can affect egg production. You can use artificial lighting to simulate longer daylight hours, which can encourage consistent egg-laying.

Dealing with Challenges

Chickens, like any animal, come with their challenges. Here are a few common issues and how to address them:

Predators: Invest in a secure coop and run, and consider adding motion-activated lights or alarms to deter nighttime predators.

Broodiness: Some hens may become broody and stop laying eggs. You can break this behavior by isolating them in a separate enclosure or providing them with dummy eggs to sit on.

Feather Pecking: Chickens can sometimes develop a habit of pecking at each other’s feathers. Ensure they have enough space and distractions to prevent this behavior.

Raising chickens can be a delightful and educational journey. By selecting the right breed, setting up a proper coop and run, providing a balanced diet, and offering care and attention, you can enjoy the rewards of fresh eggs and the companionship of these feathered friends. Remember that every chicken has its unique personality, so get ready to be charmed by your new flock as you embark on this fulfilling adventure in poultry farming. Happy chicken-keeping!

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