For some FFA members, a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) is much more than a program. It can also be a powerful career development tool.
That’s certainly been the case for Drew Dunlavey, a member of the DeWitt-Central FFA in Iowa. What was once a hobby for Dunlavey, currently a 16-year-old sophomore at Central DeWitt High School, became his SAE, and it is now a profitable small business that’s continuing to grow by leaps and bounds.
Dunlavey began his project – baking cheesecakes – as a freshman in 2017. In 2019, he started selling individual slices of cheesecake with bottles of water for $5 at the DeWitt Farmers Market. It didn’t take long for him to grow a loyal following of customers at the market, some of whom also purchased entire cakes for $25 or put in custom orders – with the option to choose from five crusts, eight fillings, 26-plus toppings and 31 premade cheesecake combinations – for Dunlavey to bake and deliver a week later.
“When I started the project, I was hoping I’d sell about 30 slices a week, and I doubled that goal quickly,” Dunlavey says. “My success has definitely been my motivation, and hearing how much people enjoy my cheesecakes makes me happy.”
To date, Dunlavey has sold 236 full cheesecakes, and between May 2019 and October 2019, he sold 885 individual slices at the farmers market. His business, Drew’s Gourmet Cheesecakes, has become so successful that he’s now fulfilling orders for large events, including an FFA banquet and two weddings.
Along with developing business-related skills, such as maximizing profit without sacrificing quality and best practices when advertising via social media, Dunlavey says he has learned several lessons through his SAE that will likely serve him for years to come.
“Going to the farmers market and selling my cheesecakes has really forced me out of my comfort zone to communicate with people more,” Dunlavey says. “I’ve also learned a lot about time management with this SAE project. Keeping good records and knowing what supplies I have or need at all times has been crucial for success.”
After graduating from high school, Dunlavey plans to enroll in a local culinary arts program and eventually have a food truck that gives him the freedom to sell his cheesecakes far and wide. His FFA advisor, Amy Grantz, has no doubt Dunlavey will make his dream a reality.
“Drew loves to bake, so this project has been a true joy for him, and his passion shows in his work ethic and the quality of his cheesecakes,” says Grantz, who also teaches agriculture classes at Central DeWitt High School. “It’s been amazing to see him grow his confidence along with his business, and he’s only 16. His future looks very bright.”