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National FFA president finds agriculture wherever she goes

National FFA president finds agriculture wherever she goes
Taylor McNeel even found FFA in the heart of New York City.

Here is a simple, one-question quiz to test your knowledge of FFA. Can you find FFA in at least 15 of the 20 largest cities in the U.S.? Taylor McNeel, National FFA president, brings you the answer.

“It’s true,” she says. “Actually, that number is low. Currently you can find FFA chapters in 19 of the 20 largest cities in the U.S."

The down-home leader from Vilonia, Ark., spent time at Indiana FFA’s state convention this year. She sat down for an interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer.

IPF: What is one of your most memorable experiences of the year so far?

BIG STAGE DOESN’T CHANGE SMALL-TOWN GIRL: Taylor McNeel (left) may be the National FFA president, but she was quite at home chatting with Emily Florence and Travis Drake, Franklin FFA members, at the recent Indiana FFA Convention.

McNeel: It would have to be visiting John Bowne High School in Queens, New York City, N.Y. It’s a school of 4,000 students, but they have an agriculture program and an FFA chapter.

They also have a 4-acre farm in the middle of the city. Every student gets a chance to show that he or she can drive a tractor. Every student there in the program is on a track that could lead to a career in agriculture.

IPF: What kind of activities do students in inner-city schools get involved in with agriculture?

McNeel: It varies, but there are some pretty innovative programs. At one school, students raise and care for reptiles, and study their reproductive habits. I also found a program where students breed white mice and learn about genetics.  

IPF: As you travel the U.S., what challenge facing agriculture education and FFA stands out?

McNeel: The challenge is to bring more students into ag education and turn out more teachers. Nearly everywhere in the country, many schools need ag teachers. It is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity for someone who wants to become a teacher today. Some states are offering scholarships if students will go to school, and then go into teaching agriculture and teach for a specified number of years.

IPF: What is life like for a National FFA officer?

McNeel: We will spend 300 days on the road this year. The National FFA Center in Indianapolis is our home base, so I’ve learned a lot about Indiana, and have stayed here probably more days than anywhere else. It feels like home here.

But our year is all about travel and promoting the FFA. Between us, we will visit every state except Vermont and Hawaii. But we will visit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. So out of 52 state FFA associations, we will visit 50 of them this year.

IPF: Did you grow up on a farm?

McNeel: It was a small farm. We raised goats and horses. My dad was in FFA in Texas when he was in school. When my year is over I will go back to Southern Arkansas University and study agriculture and business with a minor in Spanish. 

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