It was a cold February day in 1984 when I stood in a room at the United Community Schools in Boone and utter the sentence that would forever change my life; “I believe in the future of farming, with a faith born of words, not deeds…” The rest of the five paragraphs of the FFA Creed were a blur to be honest as would be the next five years of my life. I didn’t know at the time just how much FFA and the blue jacket would become a constant in my existence at that point.
Being a farm kid who didn’t know well enough to stay out of the upstairs hall closet was the real reason I was standing in that room. I am sure I was searching for Christmas presents when I first set eyes on the blue corduroy jacket that my dad had worn during his FFA career. I remember the first time I wore my Dad’s jacket, at that sub-district contest reciting the creed. It was a little faded and may not have been tailored to fit me, but it was special and being a part of FFA was also special to me. I’m proud to say that I made it as far as the district contest before I got stage fright and forgot three entire sentences and walked away with a silver ranking.
That blue jacket survived another year and I did as well. We went to Washington, DC together; competed in more contests and stood on a stage in Mt. Ayr when I ran for district office the first time only to walk away still wearing Dad’s old jacket. I learned a lot those first couple of years, but mostly that if I really wanted something I had to work for it, that it wouldn’t be handed to me. Another year came and more contests and chapter functions, and suddenly I noticed something beginning to change. Not only was I putting in the work to get where I wanted to be, but I had an FFA Advisor that spent hours and hours pushing me to do more, to not just step out of my comfort zone, but live and thrive there.
In Centerville, I traded Dad’s old jacket for a brand new one of my own, but this time with the words “South Central District” on the back, and over the course of my senior year in high school I made six of the best friends I would ever have. That jacket would be replaced a year later with the one I would wear as a state officer and brought more opportunities and memories.
No matter where I was in life during the twenty some years after that, I was constantly running into people I knew, or had met through FFA and the lessons of leadership, community and service served me well in the working world. Since then I’ve picked up the blue blazer of the FFA Alumni and found that working with Ag Educators and FFA members is just as rewarding as it was those many years ago, even if things have changed since I was a member. No matter how many years I spend on this earth, the associations I have made because of my part in the organization and the opportunities that have been presented to me will continue to be moments in my life that bring meaning to that belief in the future.
So on this National FFA Week I want to congratulate everyone associated with the FFA, from the freshman members to parents, to Ag Educators, to those of us “has beens” that continue to work to advocate for the future of the industry. I’m glad you and I have played a part in that inspiring task. See you next week…remember, we’re all in this together.