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Farming competition’s state champion graduating from Woodland High School

Horticulture and community inspire Woodland graduate and plant enthusiast Cooper Kaml

Michael McCormic, Jr.
For Clark County Today

WOODLAND — It has been an exciting year for Cooper Kaml. As a senior at Woodland High School, Kaml won the 2018 state championship at the Future Farmers of America competition in March. Now, as graduation fast approaches, Kaml is looking forward to achieving both his long- and short-term goals.

Cooper Kaml (pictured center) along with the Woodland High Future Farmers of America team, won the state championship at the Washington State FFA Convention in March, and will be heading to Indianapolis, IN, this October to compete in nationals. Photo courtesy of Cooper Kaml
Cooper Kaml (pictured center) along with the Woodland High Future Farmers of America team, won the state championship at the Washington State FFA Convention in March, and will be heading to Indianapolis, IN, this October to compete in nationals. Photo courtesy of Cooper Kaml

The 2017-18 school year was Kaml’s first year competing in the Future Farmers of America convention. As a self-described “novice,” he spent long hours studying and preparing for the state competition, which involved various areas of study ranging from floral design to horticulture.

The competition functioned in four stages, including a math and problem solving portion, a teamwork-oriented phase in which Kaml acted as team leader for his group, a plant knowledge contest, and lastly, an individual practicum, in which students can compete in one of many chosen topics.

In describing his chosen area of study for the practicum, Kaml says “I competed in plant propagation and plant studies but there’s also floral design, there’s sellings, and plant diseases and disorders.”

When Kaml won the state title, the numbers spoke for themselves. The point spread between second and third place was a mere five points, while the difference between second and first place was 69 points.

Woodland High School graduate Cooper Kaml plans to attend Lower Columbia College to pursue a business degree with the hopes of eventually managing a greenhouse chain. Photo courtesy of Cooper Kaml
Woodland High School graduate Cooper Kaml plans to attend Lower Columbia College to pursue a business degree with the hopes of eventually managing a greenhouse chain. Photo courtesy of Cooper Kaml

“I noticed that I was progressing a lot faster than people in our area, and so It was something I was really excited about; I loved learning it,” Kaml explains of his speedy rise to the top. “I went from knowing very little on the topic to studying consistently and relentlessly, and it really paid off.”

Although his hard work and knack for working with plants makes his victory a no-brainer in hindsight, Kaml claims that it came somewhat by surprise to him. Although his goal from the beginning was to win the state competition, Kaml knew the odds going into it. In fact, according to Kaml, a novice competitor placing first in the state is almost unheard of.

Mary Ellen Vetter, Kaml’s floral design teacher at Woodland High School to whom Kaml credits with convincing him to join FFA in the first place, says of him, “He has just been the strongest leader, the best helper, he encourages other students to try harder; he’s just a fantastic student.”

Vetter further explains that the state championship is not the end of the road for Kaml and his peers; because his first-place title helped the rest of the Woodland High School FFA team to be the top team in the state, the group will be headed to the national competition in Indianapolis, IN, this October.

In the meantime, Kaml has a lot to look forward to; with graduation on Fri., June 15, he says he plans to use his newfound freedom to attend Lower Columbia College and pursue a degree in business while also seeking out other interests.

“After I graduate, I’ll be staying involved with the community, so that’s part of the reason I’m staying in a community college,” Kaml says. “So I’ll be going to LCC and doing part-time classes and doing a job on the side and also studying for FFA nationals.”

Beyond college, Kaml says he wants to use his business degree to continue working in the horticulture and growing industry. Ultimately, he sees himself managing a greenhouse chain, which Kaml says is a good balance between profitable and interesting.

Outside of studying and working with plants, Kaml is also an accomplished musician, having begun playing clarinet in middle school before switching to saxophone shortly thereafter. Kaml spent his high school years playing in the audition jazz band, and currently plays first alto saxophone. In the last band concert, he even had a featured solo.

Community is also of the utmost importance to Kaml, who also involved himself throughout high school in various service-related clubs and organizations.

When looking towards future prospects, Kaml says, “I really like the potential with everything I can go into. That’s something I’m really looking forward to, because, along with the horticulture field, there’s so much you can get into; there’s landscaping and there’s greenhouse management; there’s anything you could possibly think of. So, as far as job opportunities, I’m looking forward to that.”

Even more important to Kaml than his future career is his desire to be actively involved with the community around him.

Kaml explains, “I think I’m most looking forward to staying involved in the community. I feel that’s something I want to definitely continue doing. I feel like if you don’t have a servant’s heart, there’s no point in continuing to live in a community.”

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