The year Kelly Froehlich was born, her parents built their first hydroponic greenhouse on their small family farm in Grasston, Minn.
Her father, an engineer, designs greenhouses and hydroponic systems so naturally, Froehlich grew up witnessing experiments of what works – and what doesn’t.
“Over the years, our greenhouse operations have tested hydroponic systems, ways of growing plants using different lighting, nutrients, media and technology,” she said. “Through hydroponics, I was first exposed to new and exciting things that could be learned through experimentation.”
She followed in her older brother’s footsteps and enrolled in the Academy for Science and Agriculture for high school studies. For graduation, all students had to give three presentations a year, complete science fair experiments and perform a set amount of community service each year.
A shy person who kept to herself, the presentations alarmed Froehlich. But she joined FFA as a freshman, developed public speaking and presentation skills and flourished that first year in successful competitions like her state’s Agriscience Fair and other state and national FFA agriscience competitions.
Her sophomore year, Froehlich and her older brother purchased seven sheep to raise on the farm. With no previous experience caring for livestock, she taught herself through research how to care for the animals, what they needed to grow and what issues they faced as a species.
She soon combined her interests of agriscience and livestock when her sheep faced some nutritional challenges. She began research and experimentation into developing hydroponic forage.
“If nutritious, healthy lettuce and tomatoes could be grown hydroponically, I wondered if forage could as well,” Froehlich said. “I wondered if my sheep could enjoy fresh, year-round forage that could solve their nutrition problems and also keep their wool clean of hay chaff.”
For the next three years, Froehlich worked on her project, which got her noticed by General Mills, CropKing Hydroponics and the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. She was selected for an internship at the University of Minnesota’s animal science department in the dairy nutrition lab. Following completion, she was hired as a part-time assistant to help with research projects.
“There is always something new to learn, things that pose challenges and opportunities,” Froehlich said. “My grandfather was an engineer and had a saying, ‘Every complex problem has a simple solution. You just have to find it.’ That’s something I always carry in my mind as I go about my research to improve the health and wellbeing of livestock through nutrition.
Froehlich is a 2013 finalist for an American Star in Agriscience award from the National FFA Organization.
Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with an American Star award for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education. The award is the most prestigious honor awarded to a student by the National FFA Organization.
The American Star awards – including the American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience – are awarded to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of a supervised agricultural experience. A required activity in FFA, a supervised agriculture experience allows students to learn by doing by either owning and operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.
Sixteen American Star award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated for a panel of judges to interview during convention. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award. The Stars Over America are sponsored by ADM Crop Risk Services; CASE IH; DuPont Pioneer; Elanco; Farm Credit and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
Froehlich, 21, is a member of the Academy for Science and Agriculture FFA chapter in Vadnais Heights, Minn., led by advisors Kaleb Kromann and Jordan Pollock. She attends University of Minnesota, majoring in animal science and agricultural education.
She is the daughter of Jean and Steve Froehlich.
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About National FFA Organization
The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 557,318 student members as part of 7,498 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and it is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at www.FFA.org, on Facebook, Twitter and the official National FFA Organization blog.