If it wasn’t for her best friend’s concussion Zaren Kerper wouldn’t have even attended the National FFA Convention last October. In fact, if her friend hadn’t gotten injured, she would never have competed on the Oley Valley FFA food science team. And if it wasn’t for that injury, Kerper would have never found herself taking home the top honor for food science in the nation.
“I had knowledge of the CDE and felt I could be a good replacement, even if I didn’t have quite as much time to prepare,” Kerper said. “Again, I fell into this by chance. If my friend hadn’t gotten injured, I never would have been on the team going to nationals.”
The Pennsylvania FFA student had been to nationals before, twice to visit and once competing in the milk quality and products CDE, but the college freshman had never competed at nationals for food science before.
“My junior year of high school I signed up for a food science and technology class. I normally doubled up on science classes every year because I wanted to be able to learn as much about agriculture as possible while in school,” Zerper said. “I fell into the CDE by chance when a few of my friends decided to make a team to go to states in the CDE.”
It seems Zerper was destined to excel in food science. In 2016, she ended up winning first place individual at the state level and the team took second. The team then had the opportunity to compete at the Big Eastern Exposition where the team placed first and Zerper third individually.
While Zerper has succeeded to the highest level in food science, the CDE wasn’t her first choice when it came to FFA. Zerper, who grew up on a farm surrounded by cattle, horses, goats, pigs, sheep, and even a ferret, transferred to Oley Valley High School her freshman year of high school in order to be part of the FFA and agriculture program, and more importantly to be able to show at local fairs until the age of 21.
“However, I ended up falling in love with the program and learning more about agriculture,” Zerper said. “I was already very knowledgeable and finally found something that I was good at.”
Kerper said the food science CDE involves a lot of different parts. There’s a test on practical knowledge questions, a product development portion that is done as a team, scent identification, triangle tests, a practical math portion, and a few other parts. The product development portion is one of the largest and as a team, you are given a set of guidelines and told to develop and market a product.
“The guidelines were a shelf stable dessert, cake, that needed to be calorie conscious and marketed to millennial women. We had to measure and mix the product together in real life, choose a packaging for it, come up with nutrition facts and a glamour panel, come up with a processing plan, and come up with a marketing plan, among other things,” Kerper said. “We made a caramel delight cake that we felt would be a good comfort food.”
Zerper said she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the CDE to other FFA members.
“A few of my friends that have tried this CDE have discovered that they love food science and are now majoring in it in college,” Zerper said. “By trying a CDE you don’t have much knowledge of, you could discover a passion you never knew you had. It also gives you a better appreciation for the complexities that go into the food you eat every day.”
Kerper, who is currently studying at Kutztown University, plans to transfer to another college in order to major in agricultural education. Her dream is to become an agriculture teacher, like the ones that inspired her in high school. She is also minoring in Spanish so that she can reach out to as many students as possible and inspire them to become advocates for agriculture.
And even though the food science CDE didn’t lead to a further career ambition, Kerper said she is glad she added the CDE to her FFA portfolio.
“By doing this CDE, I am a better advocate for agriculture because I know more about the field,” Kerper said. “Before, I never knew much about the topic, but now I am able to educate other people and perhaps inspire them to find out more about the topic, too.”