Growing Where You’re Planted

FFA has a week? Of course it does! Being the largest youth leadership organization it needs a week to celebrate and bring attention to its activities on an annual basis. The week of George Washington’s birthday was designated as National FFA Week back in 1947. FFA Week always runs from Saturday to Saturday, and always includes February 22, Washington’s birthday.This year’s theme is “Grow”.

 FFA members grow many different things from crops to raising livestock basically anything that you can grow it can fall into a SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) or as many people call it “a project”. However if you join FFA you do not have to actually grow an actual product of any kind. As they say FFA is more than cows, plows and sows, FFA is about growing future leaders (As a product of this great organization I can assure you it does just that). 

The National FFA Organization was founded in 1928 and has grown from 33 farm boys to a organization of  557,318 members, ages ranging 12‒21, in 7,498 chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.Over the years FFA has changed a lot; for example (originally women were not allowed and now  44% of FFA members are female; women hold approximately 50% of state leadership positions. Students have also changed over the years and for that reason in 1988 FFA which was known as Future Farmers of America became The National FFA Organization so that student leaders who maybe want to pursue a career other than agriculture can still find a place in the organization. Although The National FFA Organization still remains agricultural in many ways is not made up of just future farmers, but future doctors, lawyers, educators, researchers etc. are members. (and yes we still wear the blue corduroy jackets)

Through my experiences with FFA I was given so many opportunities for growth. Growth in leadership abilities is high on my list. Having the opportunity to serve as a chapter and state officer in the organization provided valuable experience in leading others that has been and will continue to be an asset as a high school / college student and as an upcoming member of our US workforce. Skills such as time management, facilitation, problem solving, and working with a team have been invaluable. Being able to effectively communicate is another skill cultivated by FFA. At the age of 16 I was elected to a position that required me to speak to groups of all ages (most of the time groups older than I) and be able to challenge or educate them on any given topic related to agriculture, leadership, goals, teamwork, vision etc. Being pushed to grow that skill set at an early age was scary at times, but FFA equipped me with the training and knowledge to do so. 

Growing my network is another aspect FFA has been extremely beneficial, especially as I have gotten older and even finished my time in FFA. Meeting and working with local, state, and national leaders in the political world and in the agriculture industry has been a great learning experience as far as how the process works and learning about the importance of being involved in what is going on in the government. Making contacts in the industry has been helpful in finding internships/ potential jobs. The agriculture industry (and even some non-ag companies) realize the strength and impact FFA has on its members. Over 3,000 sponsors provided more than $16 million for FFA and agricultural programs and activities in 2011. In 2011, 129 sponsors provided 1,590 individual scholarships worth over $1.9 million through the National FFA Organization. To date, more than $34 million in FFA collegiate scholarships have been awarded to students pursuing higher education. These supporters of FFA know what opportunities for growth FFA offers and wants the students in their industry once they have “grown up”

 Simply making friends among my peers has proved time and time again to be helpful in so many areas. Some of my best friends have been made through FFA. I have spent so many hours on the road, on the phone, so many hours in workshops, the laughs, the tears. Another plus to making friends across the state and country: there are very few states I can now go to and not know of someone in that state (don’t get me wrong there are a few), this has been wonderful in traveling to football games, looking for jobs and internships and selecting a school to attend. I’m never too far away from an acquaintance and I am constantly surprised to run across people I met once or twice and never thought I would see again. 

If you are in high school I definitely recommend you take advantage of FFA and its opportunities for growth. Maybe you are at a school that doesn’t have a strong FFA chapter, that doesn’t matter, take advantage of opportunities on other levels in the organization, or maybe your advisor needs a little encouragement from students to be active. Maybe you have been an FFA member in the past: a few years ago or maybe 30, I challenge you to use those skills and experiences you had gained through FFA and put them to use in your community, help grow the next generation of leaders whether it is giving of your time, money or expertise. Many of our nation’s notable figures were once members and are using their influence to motivate others like Bo Jackson (Bo definitely knows), Taylor Swift, Jimmy Carter, Tim McGraw, and Chris Johns (Editor National Geographic) are just a few products of this organization and millions of others scattered across this great nation. 

As an 8th grader joining FFA was one of the best decisions I have ever made, it has challenged me to grow into the person I am today and for that I am thankful. It all starts with growing where you are planted, we do not have any control over where we live our younger years, the community you are in, school system, home etc. you have to choose to make the best of where you are, and grow into something great! As people around the US celebrate National FFA Week, what opportunities for growth has FFA afforded you and if you were not a member of FFA what other valuable experiences in your life has attributed to your growth as an individual? 

Why Do We Do What We Do?

About two weeks ago now I spoke at the Auburn Kiwanis Club on current topics in agriculture and at the end of my presentation a gentleman asked “Farming is not an easy job, why do people like you want to do it?” I have always recognized that farming is not the easiest job to have, but I have always thought of it as being a rewarding job. Over the last few weeks and especially after Dodge’s Super Bowl Commercial based on the Paul Harvey Segment “God Made A Farmer” I have thought more about WHY people continue to farm.

Growing up, farming was what my dad did, what my grandfather had done. At the age of only a few weeks old I have pictures where my mom had taken me to the cotton field to visit my dad when he was harvesting. My brothers and I grew up enjoying the farm life, we rode equipment with dad and his workers, traveled all over Limestone County with mom as she would help dad move from one field to the other during planting, harvest and all in between.

At a young age I do not think we understood the importance of what he was doing. I clearly remember my little brother Thomas when he was a few years old asking my dad “Daddy, when are you going to get a REAL job?” of course everyone laughed at that. It wasn’t until we were older that we realized what a REAL job farming is.That is one thing I try to impress upon young kids when I visit schools, I put it to them like this “farmers have jobs just like their parents, but instead of driving to the office, they go out and grow our food.”

Like with any job, some days in farming are better than others. There are the days when tractors won’t start, you lock the keys in the truck, animals die, belts break, employees don’t show up, not enough rain, too much rain, extreme heat, and extreme cold. Whatever the circumstances things still have to be finished. Crops nor animals can wait for better weather, vacations to be over, etc. I often run into people who question farmers and their care of their animals. They often will scoff that “farmers are only doing it for the money.” In a sense that is true, it is a business you have to retain profitability in order to keep going (however every year profitability does not always happen). Farmers show the utmost care and concern for their livestock and their well-being. Right now for example it is winter time in most parts of the country (Alabama’s weather has not yet realized it is winter), but winter time can be tough to function outdoors, must less have to care for livestock like my friend Melissa Keyes and her family does out in Springfield, Nebraska. Currently they have about 150 mama cows that will be having calves within the next two months. No matter the conditions they provide the best care for their Angus cattle.

Right before Christmas she explained some of the challenges snow provides for their farm and even talked about how Christmas morning was like any other morning until the cows were fed and the snow was shoveled out of the bunkers. Other friends have talked about times when they had to postpone vacations, dates, and other events due to sick or pregnant animals. Would you postpone a family vacation because your dog or cat was sick?

When it all comes down to it I think one of the main reasons farmers continue to do what they do amist the challenges they face is pride. Not a bad kind of pride, pride in the product of their toil. I’m starting to see that through my own experiences. As I have mentioned previously I am growing my first crops of my own this year. I am so proud of my wheat! I planted it in November and it is coming along so nicely. I love watching it grow and figuring out the best way to make sure it is harvested successfully.  

My brother went home this weekend and I was not able to, but I was so excited to get to see the pictures of how it has grown since I saw it last. My dad has often talked about cotton. It is a pretty cantankerous crop to grow. It takes a lot of oversight and adjusting throughout its growing span, but when it is opening up and has reached maturity it is something you look at and are proud of. Farmers take pride in what they produce whether it be a cow, cotton, catfish, peanuts, alfalfa, you name it. Also farmers take great pride in what they are doing: feeding their families, country and world. We are adding a million people to the world’s population every five days which is equal to a Chicago every week! Farmers are a necessity to feed all of these new people being added to the world daily. Farmers also take pride in their lifestyle. A lot of my friends in other colleges here at Auburn have the idea that being an “ag major” is just that an ag major. Being an agriculture major is so much more than just a course of study. It is a way of life and extremely important to the continued survival of mankind. Farmers take pride in the life lessons and values learned on the farm.

Farmers love what they do and take pride in it, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. They love the land, their animals, people, the sun, rain, and the challenge. It is a job demanding of their time and physical bodies, but it is a noble profession and wonderful way of life. I know I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I realize it is not for everyone and I’m not saying anyone who doesn’t is inferior. The pride and love of agriculture and its future is what keeps me and two million other farmers in the United States plowing on.