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How I embraced my town’s cherished tradition: FFA

Issue Date: December 22, 2021
By Garret Gomes
FFA member Garret Gomes of Gustine High School, right, shows his winning heifer at the Merced-Mariposa Cattlemen’s Association show and sale. The town of Gustine boasts 350 FFA members.
Photo/Courtesy of Kelly Sanchez/Gustine FFA
Garret Gomes

Imagine going out into a lush, green pasture and picking out your favorite cute and fuzzy heifer, dreaming about the day you get to bring her home and start working with her for the fair. So cute, so fuzzy. That is, until you're snapped from your daydream into the reality of being dragged around by an untamed animal, hundreds of pounds heavier, far stronger, fiercely stubborn and more than a little crazed.

That was the beginning of my Beef Bred Heifer Supervised Agricultural Experience, or SAE, project. It started with pure chaos and fear and led to a strong desire to learn and succeed.

Throughout the past three years at Gustine High School, I have been actively involved within my school and FFA chapter. Growing up in Gustine, a small town in the Central Valley, has allowed me to learn so much about the agriculture industry, and it has opened my eyes on why agriculture is so important not only for California but for the entire world.

In our town, being a part of the Gustine FFA Chapter is a tradition in many families. Our chapter started back in 1937 and has been paving the way for students to learn about the importance of our industry and what it means to our community.

Gustine FFA is currently home to over 350 FFA members. They participate in speaking competitions, livestock judging competitions, project exhibits and many community events.

One of my favorite parts about the FFA program is my Supervised Agricultural Experience projects of showing replacement heifers at local county fairs. Ever since I was 9 years old, I've had a passion for showing animals, starting with pigs and goats.

In my sophomore year in high school, I decided to step up by showing my first-ever replacement heifer at the Merced-Mariposa Cattlemen's Association show and sale. When I brought my heifer home, I thought to myself, "I don't know about this," because she was quite crazy.

And by crazy, I mean she took off running, leaving me in the dust, wondering how I would ever be able catch her and work with her. She would also break out of her pen, just to be with the lambs in the pasture.

But I never gave up. I just kept working at it. In time, she calmed down and I was able to train her for the upcoming show. When the day finally rolled around, the two of us took to the show ring. She pranced about like she was made for this moment, yet still appeared stubborn and wild.

And yet, as we made our way around the ring, the judge began placing the animals, starting with the lowest rated. Suddenly, I realized that there were only three of us left competing, then two. Finally, my heifer was motioned to go into the first-place spot. We had won the top prize in her breed class. All our hard work paid off.

Later that week, I was honored as the FFA Outstanding New Exhibitor. Throughout this journey, I was able to experience the "joys and discomforts of agricultural life" that E.M. Tiffany had described in the FFA Creed adopted in 1930.

Through this process, I learned about my own grit and determination, while also gaining knowledge and skills required for someday working in the beef industry. This year, I have already purchased my new heifer and have begun working with her. I am looking forward to the 2022 Merced-Mariposa Cattlemen's Association Beef Bred Heifer Show and Sale in June.

In FFA, there is something for everyone. This year, our chapter hosted events ranging from our annual truck and tractor pulls, among the longest-running events of their kind, to hosting the Merced-Mariposa Section's opening and closing ceremonies' public speaking competitions.

This year, I joined 17 other Gustine FFA members in attending the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, in which we were able to imagine our futures in FFA career development workshops, learn new skills and connect with other young people from across the country.

After the convention, the Gustine students flew to Washington, D.C. We toured Mount Vernon, visited the White House and conversed with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Four Gustine students even got the opportunity to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What an amazing honor.

I am grateful for all that FFA offers to me and other students. I will continue to pursue my dreams within FFA as I build toward my future in agriculture.

And now, when I look into the eyes of a crazed heifer, I try hard not to smile.

(Garret Gomes is a junior at Gustine High School in Merced County and the Gustine FFA chapter reporter. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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