My FFA story is a bit different than most. To my never-ending lament, my county didn’t have an active FFA chapter when I was in school, so I didn’t get to be a student member.
However, as soon as I learned about the opportunity, I joined as an FFA Alumni Lifetime Member in 2014 as an adult. I have a photo displaying that Lifetime Member certificate proudly wearing my grandfather's FFA blue jacket — he was FFA state treasurer in 1952 and is the reason I went into farming and farm advocacy.
My grandmother kept his jacket all these years.
I attended this year’s National FFA Convention at the Indiana Convention Center where optimism, determination and drive permeated the air. Each attendee — young, old, speaker or sponsor — had a story to tell of their life in agriculture, their future aspirations and their journey through FFA.
I was thrilled to accept an offer to speak on a panel of women in agriculture, sponsored by FarmHer. It was a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting, and RSVPs capped out at the full 200 slots allotted. The session was billed as the "Following Your Passion" panel.
If you’re not yet familiar with FarmHer, I highly recommend you seek the organization out on RFD-TV or SiruisXM, or check out their weekly podcast or blog. According to the organization's website, "FarmHer quickly grew into a place where stories are shared and women are not only recognized but feel a sense of inspiration and community. Today, the business consists of various entities, all shining a light on women in agriculture."
My fellow panelists were Amber Greiman, an FFA advisor and teacher; and Erin Cumings, a farmer and an associate vice president of agribusiness underwriting at Nationwide Insurance. Marji Guyler-Alaniz, founder and president of FarmHer, moderated the panel.
Marji asked each of us a series of questions intended to mine our collective experiences as farmers and women in agriculture, and to garner nuggets of wisdom for the students in the audience.
"What is your personal mission statement and why?" "Is it hard to ask for help?" and "What does success look like for you?" were just a few of the questions.
We naturally fell into a groove and a cadence of camaraderie, despite having only met in person the night before. We fed off each other’s questions, nodded in accordance on common points and shared the experience of being with other modern women in agriculture.
SEA OF BLUE: The FarmHer women panel was part of the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis.
And the audience was fully there for it. Students, both male and female, parents, and advisors filled the room. The coffee urns emptied early, and the hands for questions went up in the air quickly.
Questions from the floor included, "What keeps you motivated?" and "How would you advise young farmers to go about participating in the estate planning and land transition process with their families?"
The question I remember most was, "How do you cry?" a question to the larger issue of handling the emotions surrounding farmers today, especially appropriate in these down markets.
If the timer had not buzzed for the end of the session, my fellow panelists and I could have talked with these young people for much longer. The optimism, determination, curiosity, work ethic and drive these students embody is hopeful.
In these times when confusion and fear often dominate the narrative, these FFA students were a balm to the soul. I truly believe they are the future of American agriculture.
For more information on future FarmHer events, visit their website at farmher.com.