“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of a man.” – George Washington
Earlier today, a blog was posted on a website that completely bashed the National FFA Organization and the values the organization and the agriculture industry have stood for, time and time again. The article (which I won’t link here to prevent more traffic from going to their site) gave 11 reasons, including visuals with graphic content, why FFA was “lame AF.” In the opinion of this young professional, the title alone is enough to knock off any credibility that this blog would carry.
Though the article that I’m referring to focused solely on the “inhumane” treatment of livestock, the National FFA Organization is so much more than “plows, cows and sows.” I do agree with George Washington in saying that the agriculture industry is the most noble employment of anyone and I believe that FFA does an absolutely phenomenal job of training students in agriculture education so they can take care of our livestock, treat them humanely and provide the world with food. While doing that, they also change the lives of a lot of students, including my own.
My blog probably has just as much credibility as this other website, so here’s why I think FFA is BAE. (For all of you who don’t know BAE is an acronym short for “before anything else;” a phrase which the youngins today think is all the rage.)
1. “Develop my potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success.”
No picture will ever be able to depict how much time I spent studying my butt off for Career Development Events, or CDEs as we call them in the FFA world. Whether it was spending countless hours perfecting my floriculture skills, memorizing the different kinds of plants for Nursery Landscape, going to interview after interview to practice for Job Interview or annoying my friends with my introduction for Ag Broadcasting, there’s no way to measure the ways that FFA was able to develop my potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success.
Even though I couldn’t see it at the time, the CDEs I was participating in during high school were shaping the way for my collegiate experience and my future career. Somehow, FFA took a young girl who would barely speak as a freshman in high school to a senior in college who will speak in front of hundreds – even thousands of people – and find it hard to stop talking. FFA changed me as a person. It made me a more effective leader by teaching me how to lead through servant leadership. FFA molded me into the young professional I would become and it gave me the opportunity to have a great job lined up a week in to the beginning of my senior year.
2. “Make a positive difference in the lives of others.”
In 2012, I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve as one of the leaders in my state’s FFA; I accomplished my dream of being elected a South Dakota State FFA Officer. During my year as a state officer, I was told over and over again that I would change the lives of so many students just by interacting with them and encouraging them to reach their full potential. It is my hope that during my year of service that I did just that for a few individuals because I know there were state officers who served that changed my life. I hope that I was able to make a positive difference in their lives by serving as a role model, a voice of reason and even a friend.
However, what they didn’t tell me when I was elected was how many of those FFA members would change my own life. Those FFA members showed me what passion was every day I put on my own blue jacket. I was so excited to get out and meet members because they were so excited and passionate about the things they were doing on their own, whether that was raising livestock or conducting super awesome agriscience projects. Those members pushed me to be a better person and made a positive difference in my life when I was supposed to be the one doing that for them.
3. “Dress neatly and appropriately for the occasion.”
But really, I’ve never felt more put together or felt dressed with more pride than when I donned that blue jacket, black skirt and black shoes. I felt like I was always dressed to the nines. And really, even though I don’t wear Official Dress anymore, I still know what it means to dress professionally and appropriately because I try to always match the feeling I’d get when I zipped up that blue jacket.
4. “Respect the rights of others and their property.”
In 2013, western South Dakota was devastated when winter storm Atlas killed thousands of livestock. While this article defames the use of livestock for meat, many Americans realize that meat is an excellent source of protein. For many in South Dakota, raising livestock to feed others is a way of life.
When Atlas hit, it hit these ranch families hard. Lone Tree FFA Chapter recognized how hard it would be to face what, in some cases, was almost a total loss of a family business. This FFA chapter respected what our famers and ranchers do everyday and began to raise money for South Dakota Rancher Relief to help provide relief for those families who were hit hard when the winter storm hit. In many cases, these FFA members and their advisors didn’t personally know anyone affected. If that’s not respecting the rights of others and their property, I don’t know what is.
*Note: I know there were a lot of FFA chapters out there that raised money for this, but this was the first that popped in my head.
5. “Be courteous, honest, and fair with others.”
Nothing tells the story of this line of closing ceremonies like my state officer team. Throughout the year, the six of us became one. We were often told that people had never seen a better example of 6=1 and 1=6 than they saw in our team.
My state officer team was full of rockstars. During the year we worked together, we had our differences, but we were always, always, always courteous with each other when we had disputes. We were always 100% honest with feedback we gave and with compliments we gave each other. We wanted to be our best for each other and to each other, so it just made sense to always be honest. Finally, we always settled things fairly. Once, when we encountered a problem, we came up with a solution to give open and extremely honest feedback to a third party who distributed it back to us. We wanted to make sure we kept things fair and kept them 100% honest.
6. “Communicate in an appropriate, purposeful, and positive manner.”
Being involved with FFA or even agriculture in general requires you to be a good communicator. There are so many CDEs to compete in where students need to talk about something, whether that’s they have to give reasons for the way they placed a class of cattle or they have to participate in a Junior Conduct of Meetings contest. Regardless of the situation, FFA members learn to communicate and they learn to do it quick if they want to be successful.
As a state officer, it was imperative that I was an effective communicator from giving directions to delivering speeches. FFA has taught me most everything I know about communicating.
Telling our stories is incredibly important in the industry as a whole. If we can’t be effective communicators about our careers, our industry will be constantly attacked by articles just like the one I’m trying to prove wrong.
7. “Demonstrate good sportsmanship by being modest in winning and generous in defeat.”
This one is incredibly tough for me to write about, but this definitely shaped who I am. In the photo above, you see two young ladies who are incredibly happy about just being elected to district office positions. One year later, at this same event, one young lady was incredibly unhappy about the new position she would receive. You guessed it. The unhappy young lady was me. You see, ever since I became a district officer, I wanted to serve as district President, but when the time came, I wasn’t elected to that position. Instead, my friend Kristyne was.
FFA was the first thing I was actually good at, and this was the first time that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted through the organization. Even though at the time, I couldn’t see how this defeat would shape my future. Looking back on it, this was a defining moment for me. It was in this moment that I had to congratulate Kristyne and continue working with her while she confidently and outstandingly ran our district. It really did suck at the time, but getting through that defeat, and becoming friends with her again after drifting apart, would shape my character as a person.
8. “Make myself aware of FFA programs and activities and be an active participant.”
The summer after my junior year of high school, I participated in the Washington Leadership Conference with 250 students from across the nation. This was hands down the best thing I did within the organization. This was one FFA program no one from my chapter had really taken advantage of, so I wanted to go and fully participate. From going all in with this experience, I learned what it meant to be a servant leader and that led to me majoring in Ag. Leadership here at SDSU.
9. “Conduct and value a supervised agricultural experience program.”
For six years, I worked at a local Dairy Queen for my Supervised Agricultural Experience program. While some argue that working fast food doesn’t constitute a strong SAE, I would definitely beg to differ. While I might not have had the same experience my classmates did running their own cattle operations and getting to make management decisions, I developed a strong work ethic and proficiency in competencies that will translate to a full time job after I graduate in May.
While working at Dairy Queen, I got to complete the last process in taking food from farm to the fork and gained a ton of experience in working with and managing other people. Yes, SAEs are required for FFA members and yes, they do help instill values in our youth that all employers are looking for in new employees.
10. “Strive to establish and enhance my skills through agricultural education in order to enter a successful career.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how much FFA and agricultural education has impacted my skills and my career choices. When I first joined FFA, I wanted to be a doctor. I tried to utilize the CDEs that would come in handy when I would be a medical professional. I competed in Job Interview, since I knew I’d definitely have to interview for a job at some point. I gave Parliamentary Procedure a shot because I wanted to, and still do for that matter, be on a board for an organization some day. I competed in Ag Broadcasting specifically because I loved to talk and I knew in my hypothetical career as a doctor, I would have to gather research (or ag stories in this case) and report back to someone, whether it was my boss or a patient’s family.
I’m going to be employed with John Deere upon graduation, rather than going to med school, but I can definitely use those same skills I was going to use if I were to be a doctor. FFA taught me how to network with major executives by putting me in positions where I could meet with our industry partners. FFA taught me how to train others, which I will at some point have to give a training on John Deere technology. FFA taught me how to be a confident and independent young woman, which is something that employers are definitely looking for.
11. “Appreciate and promote diversity in our organization.”
I love this quote from National FFA’s website:
“So today, we are still the Future Farmers of America. But, we are the Future Biologists, Future Chemists, Future Veterinarians, Future Engineers and Future Entrepreneurs of America, too.”
Yes. “The article” brought a lot of criticism to the organization many of my friends love. But, yes, we’re going to turn it into something positive because we’re #FFAProud.
Through this experience, we know that an organization that has so much respect and integrity in the agriculture industry can still come under fire. Instead of backlashing and bashing other organizations, as proud agriculturalists, it’s our job to start conversations and engage consumers in dialogues about what it is we actually do. If you’re unsure of where you stand on some of these issues, please talk to me about it. Ask questions about the industry. Be curious. Do research, but make sure you get both sides. Ask an agriculturalist.
One of my Facebook friends said it best this evening: “If we don’t tell our story, someone else will.” It’s time we start telling that story to everyone who will listen; but more importantly, engage with them instead of just telling them.
*DISCLAIMER: This, in no way, shape or form, displays the views of the National FFA Organization. This is just my feelings on the subject as a former FFA member and as an example of how the FFA changes lives.