Since his freshman year, Turlock Christian High School junior Austin Aschwanden has followed in his father’s footsteps, playing an active role in the success of his family’s almond shelling business. The student’s hard work has paid off, as his dedication to his young career recently made school history at the California State FFA Convention.
Aschwanden was awarded a State Proficiency in Ag Processing at the statewide event last month — the first student in TC history to take first place at the convention. The school’s FFA program was started just seven years ago, and has shaped Aschwanden into the student he is today, he said.
“FFA isn’t just driving tractors or doing a bunch of hand labor on a farm. There are leadership opportunities, and FFA is even involved in the government side of things,” he said. “It’s more than just working on a farm or having an animal.”
Aschwanden began working for his family business, Skittone Almond Sheller, when he first entered high school, starting out as a forklift driver. His duties have expanded since then, and today, he trains potential drivers at the facility in addition to working in the fields with his father, running the processing plant during harvest and maintaining the plant, fixing problems when breakdowns occur.
This experience led him to enter his work as a project at the state convention this year for the second time. He entered last year, he said, but didn’t make it past the first round of sections. This year, he found success.
“In the FFA, a lot of it is focused on leadership. I showed specifically the part of working in the almond sheller when I started off my freshman year training and learning the plant, then eventually this year when I ran the plant on my own for a day,” Aschwanden said.
Running a plant at age 17 is impressive to most, but Aschwanden said he had to earn respect amongst those older than him.
“I’ve learned how to work with new hires and try to slowly earn their respect...I’m young and in an almond industry with a bunch of older people who have been around for a while,” he said. “I’ve gotten to where they’ll respect what I have to say when I’m teaching them a job.”
Aschwanden said he’s wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps ever since he was a toddler. He has a passion for fixing problems — especially in a large-scale operation like the almond sheller.
“It went from being just something that my dad does to me now knowing how the industry works and understanding the plant,” he said.
Though young, TC’s ag program has found success through the years. Aschwanden said TC FFA’s future is uncertain, however, as its advisor is leaving at the end of the year. He hopes to see the program continue to flourish as his senior year approaches.
In the meantime, he has big aspirations on his mind.
“Next year I plan to keep working at the sheller, and at the next convention try and win Star Farmer. It’s an extremely prestigious award that will allow me to add everything on my project, like my field work and every single hour I’ve worked.”