More than cows and plows. That's what Olton High School FFA advisor Nikki Smith hopes the OHS student body learned from a presentation given by Texas FFA Officers Carlye Winfrey, Area II, president; Calvin Morgan, Area VIII, first vice president; and Wyatt Harlan, Area I.
"I want all the kids, not only my ag kids, to see that FFA has something to offer everybody," says Smith. "If it weren't for FFA and 4-H, making me talk all the time, I would never have been able to get up and talk in front of people."
The officers, who have postponed starting college to serve their year-long term, presented "Leading with Confidence," to about 180 students. "Talking about confidence is perfect," Smith says, adding that participating in FFA competitions such as Creed Speaking or Prepared Public Speaking, are great ways to build that confidence.
Along with self-assurance, she says, "I wanted the officers to show the other kids what FFA is about – not just cows and plows."
While a student at Seminole High School, Winfrey says she didn't struggle with her appearance but with confidence in her abilities. For example, she says she shied away from public speaking or the limelight. "I always had family and friends tell me, 'You need to be confident in the things you're good at.' So, now I get to take that advice given to me and hopefully teach students to do the same."
Winfrey credits FFA for developing her as a person. In high school, she competed in FFA's Career and Leadership Development Events such as Employment Skills and Creed Speaking. She says Employment Skills taught her to have conversations with adults while also preparing her for "real-world activities" beyond high school, such as interviewing to be an assistant veterinary technician. "I'm going to be applying for jobs for the rest of my life, and I was able to learn how to have simple conversations. It's made a huge impact."
Through the creed competition, she had to memorize a five-paragraph speech and "say it correctly under an enormous amount of pressure," she says.
But FFA also gave Winfrey a taste of entrepreneurship through its Supervised Agricultural Experience program. While in high school, Winfrey raised market show lambs on eight acres behind her house. The sheep were raised for stock showing. Two years in a row, Winfrey had the Grand Champion market lamb: in 2018 at Rodeo Austin and in 2019 at the San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo.
"The income I generated mostly went to my college fund and to purchase animals for the following year," she says. Her program concluded upon graduation.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Winfrey is the daughter of Bob and Kim Winfrey. Her agricultural roots began with her grandparents, who farmed and ranched near Cross Plains. Her father is a pharmaceutical salesman for companion animal veterinarians and her mother, a computer teacher at an alternative high school. Both of her brothers majored in agriculture at Texas Tech University.
"We're a big ag family," she says. "We are extremely involved in production ag, especially being from Seminole." Even though they are not "on the farm," she credits each of their professions for allowing them to see different aspects of the agricultural industry.
As for who has influenced her life the most, she says, "Definitely my family. A lot of people ask me about mentors, and immediately, it goes back to my family." But she points more specifically to her dad.
"My dad grew up in agriculture, but always joked, 'I can't grow anything. That's not what I'm good at,'" she says. So, he became an ag teacher and then sold fertilizer. Today, he works for Merk Animal Health. "He's shown me that hard work will get you anywhere and any job, as long as you're doing what you love."
Upon completion of her role as president, Winfrey plans on attending Texas Tech University and majoring in agricultural communications. "I'm interested in the political side of agriculture. I don't want to run for office, but I want to help those who do. I've also thought about becoming a lobbyist."
As a state officer, she's visited Washington D.C. several times. "We tend to think D.C. is made up of people who don’t have backgrounds in production ag, so it's important for somebody to be there reminding them of farmers and ranchers and who their policy is going to affect."
Over the next year, Winfrey and Morgan will travel approximately 40,000 miles and visit 400 schools. Morgan, a member of Midway High School FFA, plans to attend Tarleton University and major in agriculture education. Harlan, a Slaton FFA member, plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in agricultural economics and public policy.