By Kelcie Jones
California State FFA Secretary
Throughout high school, students enrolled in agricultural education and active members in their local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter have the opportunity to seek out leadership positions within their school or on a larger scale. These positions allow students to refine their skills on agriculture advocacy, leadership, and networking to encourage career success in the future.
Many times, these elections require a speech, an application, and an interview. I remember my first election like it was yesterday. As nerve-wracking as it was, experiences in the FFA like this one have made me the individual I am today.
And it’s not only my skills that the FFA is refining, but also the skills of over 540,000 youths across the United States, helping us become confident young leaders truly ready to lead American agriculture into prosperity.
In April 2012, I found myself standing on stage before 5,000 California FFA members, asking to serve them as the 2012-2013 State FFA Secretary. After a three-day process, the members of California FFA said yes.
As a state FFA officer, I’ve chosen to defer my post-secondary education for one year. During that time, I’m traveling about 275 days with my five teammates. With so much time on the road, we divide our term of service into three key focus areas: industry tours, chapter visits, and leadership conferences.
During the summer, we spend our time touring key agricultural operations to further understand American agriculture. Industry tours prepare us for our year in that we’re able to share first-hand what we absorb with the young agricultural leaders we’ve been selected to serve.
Our second part of the year will be spent conducting visits with the FFA chapters in our state. These entail building relationships with the chapter leaders and teaching a full day of a set agricultural education curriculum in school the next day. These visits help us get to know members of our association and use the resources we’ve been given to catalyze growth in their lives.
In the spring, we wrap up our year facilitating leadership conferences. As a team, we conduct the Made For Excellence conference, the Advanced Leadership Academy, and our final conference, the State FFA Leadership Conference, at which a new officer team will be elected.
Although our survival depends directly on caffeine, pizza, and the occasional call from Mom and Dad, state FFA office is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The opportunity to see growth in students is absolutely remarkable. To witness a shy young FFA member thrive because of a few hours of quality time and a little encouragement gives us all a reason to smile.
I recently bypassed the halfway mark in my term as a state FFA officer. I’ve quickly realized the value in leadership and service to others. I’ve learned the significance of passion in the hearts of young agriculturalists. Current American agriculturalists have created a solid foundation for the future of agriculture, but it will take drive from those who currently spend half of their day in colorful and sun-filled classrooms to feed this ever-expanding world. And I’ve learned the importance of the support system and guidance offered through agricultural education.
If we will feed a growing world population, we’ll need agricultural leaders in production, education and research. The next Norman Borlaug likely rode on a school bus today. The future Secretary of Agriculture spent his or her evening working on math homework. And the future of agriculture wears a blue corduroy jacket on the weekends.
Terms of service in agricultural education promote premier leadership, personal growth, and career success. In leaving a legacy of excellence, these young individuals will directly assure the success of the most powerful and influential industry in the world. Our school busses, our classrooms, our cafeterias, and our libraries are exploding with the keys to unlock tomorrow’s food supply.
Photograph: The 2012-2013 California State FFA officers.