Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What FFA Means

Once again, I am a day late and a dollar behind. OK, so I am way more than a dollar behind and probably a couple of weeks late. Make that at least one week late in this case. Yes, in my planning columns and writing them I often don’t factor in what the next week might be. I guess it is because often I am in survival mode and can’t think past a day or two ahead. In any case, I missed writing about FFA week.

Does that mean FFA is not important to me, absolutely not. FFA has played a huge role in my life and I have seen it become very important in the life of my kids. I know official dress is really uncomfortable because the coat is too warm on some occasions and not nearly warm enough to be called a coat on others. However, I think it is one of the most recognizable and inspiring uniform a high school student can wear. There is just something about the blue and gold that make you feel important and give a sense of pride.

I admit it, when it was decided that FFA no longer stood for Future Farmers of America it bothered me. After all, what is the foundation of the organization and what does that make the letters stand for? Well, over the years I have come to understand the wisdom behind the move. The practical side of it says that the clear majority of the youth going through FFA will never be involved in production agriculture. We know how those numbers are shrinking and they will only continue to get smaller. We also know that agriculture is much more than the production side.

If you look at the rosters of any of our agricultural businesses, you will see FFA alumni after FFA alumni including those in the top positions. The skills and leadership our FFA members are learning and developing make them the best source of corporate and industry leadership available. I don’t know how many employers I have had tell me over the years that they look for the former FFA and 4-H members first and that they have an edge over all other applicants because of the skills they have gained through their experience.

While the need for young people going into production agriculture maybe limited (those opportunities are still there and will always be there) there is a huge demand for skilled and trained professionals in ag related jobs. In changing the name and going away from the label farmers the organization is recognizing and appreciating the need for and the contributions made by all professionals in all levels of agriculture. We are all in this together.

Even beyond farming and beyond agriculture, FFA has so much to offer. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have spent most of my life working with FFA and 4-H and know very little about other similar organizations that high school youth can participate in. I know, without a doubt, that FFA gives youth the skills that will serve them well in the working world and lets them develop and practice those skills.

Skills like public speaking, record keeping, decision making, and all the technical knowledge in any given area of agriculture. However, in my humble opinion, the best and most important skill that is taught and practiced in FFA is leadership. That is the one special skill that makes FFA members stand out in a crowd. You can first see it in college. FFA members have the confidence and drive that send them to the front of the class. Again, look at the leadership of most of the student organizations in the college of agriculture and the leaders will often be 4-H and FFA alumni. Even beyond that a great percentage of the student body presidents at Kansas State have been former members. I promise it is no coincidence.

FFA has been such an important part of my life that during FFA week I reflect on those experiences and my wish is that every youth could have a similar experience. Each year I marvel how many vocational ag programs are added to our high schools. While it is encouraging that we are adding it still highlights how many high schools do not offer such a great opportunity for their students. Oh, I understand budgets and funding but I will ask just one question of those districts. Do you still have sports?

Again, don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in sports and the lessons that students learn in them also, but I am a bigger believer in FFA and the lifelong skills those students acquire. FFA is something everyone can participate in and excel. It is my hope that more districts will explore adding the programs and that those of us who have benefitted from the program will continue to advocate for it. We need more blue and gold corduroy.

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