Each February we honor FFA Week, and it got me thinking about all of the incredibly impressive young men and women I’ve met through FFA. It’s not an organization that I grew up with, having been raised in suburban Ohio, but I sure wish I’d known about it sooner.
I remember the first time I saw the FFA members in their blue jackets. I was at a Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame dinner, and my jaw dropped as I watched the state’s president, a girl of all of 17, present an honorary video project the FFAers had completed. Not only was the video pitch-perfect — memorable, informative and moving — her delivery was flawless. She spoke with the kind of confidence most adults don’t bring to the lectern, and with the sincerity most people don’t stop thinking about themselves long enough to feel. She was well-mannered, too.
But what struck me was her competent demeanor and expression of organizational pride. I really got the feeling that this hard-working, genuine, intelligent young woman was there to represent more than just herself or her family or even her farm; she was there as the embodiment of the FFA motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve. In a time of self-reverential mottos (Burger King’s “Have It Your Way,” L’Oreal’s “Because I’m Worth It,” etc.), the FFA creed stands out, just like its members.
And it’s a good thing we can count on them as the next generation of agriculture-savvy leaders, as the need is very real. With more than half a million members in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the FFA hosts chapters in 18 of the 20 largest U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. This is key if we want to continue to raise awareness of agriculture’s needs in a society of non-farmers.
Many of these young men and women go into teaching agriculture, which is extremely important since there are way too few ag teachers in America — and those who do teach here often have to teach at several different schools to make a living. Many have five or fewer years of teaching experience. FFA’s $34 million in collegiate scholarships go a long way in helping us fill that gap. But it’s not enough. We in the field must also be willing to host members of this group on our farms and in our plants. We must be willing to teach a class on dairy or help fund the education efforts of this exceptional organization. Those of us who are past the “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn” portion should not forget about “Living to Serve” while we’re busy “Earning to Live.”