This story also appears in our University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Agricultural Research Center Magazine. Stop by your local Research Center to pick up a copy! You can view the magazine online by clicking here: Road to Discovery.
Emily Wawrzyniak had never heard of the National FFA Organization before her freshman year at Rock Bridge High School, in Columbia. She got involved in the organization right away, though, and soon developed a passion for agriculture, especially animals.
That passion led her to the University of Missouri, where she was active at Jefferson Farm and Garden. Wawrzyniak’s involvement at JFG actually began during her senior year of high school, with the Center playing an important role in her supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project. Wawrzyniak received a lamb scholarship during her sophomore year at Rock Bridge, giving her a project centered on sheep.
“Larry Henneke, a retired FFA advisor, has his own sheep that he raises, and he sells show lambs as well,” Wawrzyniak said. “He offered a lamb scholarship where you could write a letter and he would pick an individual to give a lamb to. I was lucky enough to win the scholarship my sophomore year. Larry helped me raise and train the lamb, and I eventually was able to show it at the Boone County Fair.”
As the only person in her family who was highly involved in agriculture, the problem with having a lamb was that Wawrzyniak didn’t have many options for housing. After making things work the best she could for two years, Wawrzyniak was able to get connected with Jefferson Farm and Garden during her senior year. By that time, Wawrzyniak was caring for three lambs.
“Being able to use the facilities at JFG was amazing,” she said. “With the barn and the stalls and the automatic water, it was the perfect place for my sheep. There is also a huge pasture where all of the animals out there are free to roam.”
While Wawrzyniak found a passion for sheep, she also enjoyed working with poultry. She was part of the poultry judging team during her senior year at Rock Bridge. That team won the Missouri FFA state competition and competed at nationals.
“Poultry just came naturally to me,” she said.
When Wawrzyniak came to Mizzou in 2017, she entertained the thought of becoming a veterinarian, something she still hasn’t ruled out. She opted to join the Division of
Animal Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
“I have always loved animals,” Wawrzyniak said. “I just never really got to do a whole lot with them. In high school, I had some freedom to learn more about them through FFA. When I began at MU, I knew I wanted to do something with animals.”
Wawrzyniak worked at Jefferson Farm and Garden while at MU at times, taking care of her sheep, as well as the chickens and mules that also reside at the Center.
“You can watch a video or look through a book to learn about how to care for animals,” Wawrzyniak said. “But when you get to see the animals firsthand it makes a huge
difference. Those experiences are vital as a student. Having an opportunity for hands-on learning is key.”
Along with caring for the animals at Jefferson, Wawrzyniak led numerous tours at the Center, showcasing the various projects that take place.
“Everyone wants to see the barn, but there is so much more to Jefferson than that,” she said. “It’s been exciting to have the opportunity to share how important agriculture is to young students.”
Wawrzyniak is looking at working at some of CAFNR’s other Research Centers, including the Equine Teaching Facility at the South Farm Research Center and the Rocheford Turkey Farm, both in Columbia.
“There’s so much knowledge in CAFNR, especially in the Division of Animal Sciences,” Wawrzyniak said. “There are so many opportunities to get involved, so it’s exciting to look into the different avenues. It’s great, too, because there are options for someone like me who is interested in poultry and sheep. While there is a big focus on more traditional livestock, like cattle and pigs, there are chances to work with other forms of livestock.”