Last year, Smyrna High’s Kathryn Emerson thought her research project was good enough to win at the FFA AgriScience Fair, but it didn’t happen.

So this year she was pleasantly surprised at the outcome, even though she had to wait longer than expected.

“They didn’t announce the awards at the competition, so I was nervous and anxious about how I did. Last year I got second with a project I felt more confident in,” said Emerson.

Then her teacher texted her to tell her she’d won first place in the state in social systems and food systems.

“I was so overjoyed. My mom heard me screaming,” said Emerson. “It’s been my goal to go to regionals.”

The 2018 Smyrna High graduate will represent Delaware in the Eastern States Exposition this fall in Massachusetts.

She was recognized along with the other state winners at the FFA Awards Breakfast at the Delaware State Fair July 27.

Smyrna High FFA advisor Jay Davis said Emerson’s performance is a good lesson for her fellow FFA members.

“What impressed me about Kathryn is she’s been doing this for a number of years and she stuck with it even though she wasn’t getting the results she was hoping for,” Davis said. “She persevered and won first place this year.”

Her research project was called “What are we putting on the table? A study on the American diet.”

She said she got the idea after talking with her mom.

“She told me people used to eat so differently when she was growing up with a lot more fruits and vegetables and fresh foods – things you made yourself. That sparked my interest,” said Emerson.

She asked 15 families if they would give her a week’s worth of grocery receipts, and then Emerson made charts and graphs to show for how much each family spent on different types of foods. She estimates she put about 25 hours into the project, and she said crunching the numbers was actually pretty interesting.

“I enjoyed analyzing the receipts and plugging the numbers into the spreadsheets to create graphs,” she said. “I was surprised how different people eat. I was expecting everyone would be pretty similar and it would match my research, but the truth is people spend their grocery money on a lot of meat and processed foods.”

She did note on her project a possible reason people’s grocery lists were weighted more towards meats and processed foods.

“This may mean that the people I surveyed bought their produce outside of grocery stores,” she said, such as at a farmers market or that they had their own garden.

Emerson’s been participating in FFA since the seventh grade, and she said the program helped shape her decision to pursue a career as a veterinarian.

She plans to attend Delaware Technical & Community College and then transfer to Mississippi State University. She was able to find out about Mississippi State’s veterinary program from former Smyrna FFA chapter president Sarah McHale who attends the university. She also spoke with a veterinarian at Smyrna High FFA’s College and Career Day.

“Talking to them really helped me learn what classes I needed to take now and what I need to do to prepare for the veterinary program,” said Emerson. “That’s another way FFA helped me. I’ve been introduced to people who can give me guidance like that.”