WIU Freshman Wins National FFA Award
February 14, 2017
MACOMB, IL – When Western Illinois University freshman agriculture major Brandon Livingston, of Marietta, IL, began working at Hart's Nursery in Bushnell, IL in high school, he never dreamed what he learned through his after-school job would result in a national FFA award.
Livingston won the award late last year after competing in the nursery operations – entrepreneurship placement category at the FFA national convention in Indianapolis, IN. The competition required Livingston to keep detailed records of his work at Hart's Nursery, which is run by WIU graduates Jeff and Pam Vancil. Jeff received his bachelor's degree from Western in 1989 in agriculture, and Pam received her bachelor's degree in 1986 in mathematics.
Leading up to the national contest, Livingston won sectional, district, state and regional competitions in order to advance. He was one of four finalists for the national honor. His work at Hart's Nursery includes a variety of responsibilities including plant maintenance and care, pest management, customer relations and sales, greenhouse upkeep, record keeping, fertilization and weed removal and prevention.
"At nationals, I was interviewed about the records I kept of what I do at Hart's, including entries about my work experience and safety practices," he said.
Livingston began working for Jeff and Pam in 2013, while he was a student at Bushnell-Prairie City High School. His brother, Kirklen Livingston, also previously worked at the nursery.
Both Jeff and Pam have previously taught at the high school level and said they like to hire students with backgrounds in FFA, mainly because of their work ethic.
"They seem more invested in it; they're not just an employee," said Jeff.
The Vancils have employed at least seven FFA presidents and two vice presidents through their nursery. They have seen at least seven employees win state FFA competitions, but Livingston is the first national winner.
"He is also the first national winner from Bushnell," said Pam.
The Vancils also have a close relationship with their alma mater, hiring students and working with professors to arrange multiple field trips in a variety of academic areas.
"We have horticulture classes; we talk about perennials and greenhouse structures," said Pam.
Livingston's high school FFA advisor, B-PC agriculture teacher Steve Sargeant, is a 1990 WIU graduate, with a degree in agriculture. Sargeant accompanied Livingston to Indianapolis, but the two were separated after Livingston's national award win was announced.
"It didn't really register when I won; someone kind of pushed me forward," he said. "But win or lose, the honor was just getting to stand on the stage with the other candidates, who were also phenomenal."
Since coming to Western, Livingston has become involved with the University's collegiate FFA chapter and worked with the WIU Greenhand Conference, which connects WIU agriculture students with high school students getting involved with agriculture.
WIU School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker said Livingston's recognition is "well deserved."
"Brandon has worked very hard and dedicated many hours in developing his Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), and thanks to Jeff and Pam Vancil for giving Brandon the opportunity to expand his skill set," said Baker. "We also appreciate the time that Mr. Steve Sargeant, Brandon's high school ag teacher, dedicated toward the development and advancement of Brandon's SAE. Brandon has had some great role models in his life, and I am very excited that Brandon has decided to pursue Agricultural Education as his career choice. He has a very bright future ahead of him.
For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture, visit wiu.edu/agriculture.