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Lauren Shell prepares for national FFA contest

By Susan Shinn Turner for the Salisbury Post


While most college students are preparing for mid-term exams, Lauren Shell is preparing for a national FFA contest later this month in Indianapolis.


On Oct. 30, Lauren, a freshman at N.C. State University, will present the results of her senior project on raising trout in the Piedmont in winter weather. A 2019 graduate of South Rowan High School, Lauren concluded that yes, it could be done.


Lauren took agriculture classes all four years at South, and became a member of Future Farmers of America as a ninth-grader.


“I’ve always just really enjoyed animals and the outdoors,” says Lauren, whose father, Darrell, was also a member of FFA at South. Lauren’s mom is Christy and her sister, Sarah, 13, is a student at China Grove Middle School. When she’s not studying, Lauren enjoys being outside and hanging out with her sister.


Classes in agriculture and animal science, she says, “definitely got me interested in the sciences,” says Lauren, who’s a biology major at State. Her biology, chemistry, and calculus classes are going well this semester, she says.


At South, she had the opportunity to do a senior project in advanced agriculture studies. She started thinking about it, and realized nobody had ever used the pond behind South, which has been there for years.


“I decided to try fish,” she says.


“She saw our pond as a diamond in the rough to be utilized for student projects,” says David Overcash, who teaches agriculture classes at South. “She saw the pond could be a resource.”


They contacted the Piedmont Research Station, who got them in touch with an aquaculture specialist in Mills River.


Based on the water quality, they determined that trout would be the best species to raise. The N.C. Wildlife Commission donated 600 trout, half rainbow and half brown. She and her dad built six circulation cages for them to live in.


Lauren went out every day to feed them and check on them. She only lives about five minutes from school.


“I went out one day when it snowed, and it was really pretty,” she notes.


All through the year, she tracked the growth and weight of the fish. In early April, she decided to donate the fish to Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Place, but realized the neighbors there may or may not have a way to prepare them. Instead, she hosted a community fish fry, and donated $1,300 to the non-profit organization.


“Main Street Marketplace absolutely loves it when a young person takes the initiative to partner with us for the good of the community,” says Hope Oliphant, executive director. “We are truly thankful for the help of Lauren and South Rowan.”


Meanwhile, Lauren won first place at the FFA state convention in Raleigh in her division, and was invited to participate at the national level. She’s created a poster with all of her information, and she’ll present her findings before a panel of judges. Her entry also includes a 30-page paper that tied in her AP statistics class. AP environmental students also helped with weighing the fish.


“We practiced a good bit for the state convention,” Lauren says of her 15-minute presentation. “I’ve just been fine-tuning it. I feel pretty good about it. I’m optimistic. It’s a unique project. I don’t think many people would have the facilities or think to do fish. I definitely have more of an appreciation for aquaculture.”


“Lauren learned some really neat things about growing specific species of animals,” Overcash says. “For me, it was breaking new ground. Whatever a student wants to do, I’ll jump right in. I learned a lot from it, just like she did. We hope she’ll do well. It was a great project, no matter what.”


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