Growing the Next Generation of Agriculturalists

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Illinois FFA

Photo by Catrina Rawson

With our kids now at ages 10 and 7, I heighten my expectations of a good night’s sleep. But sometimes, a worry turns on my brain early in the morning. Too often, our yellow lab barks at nocturnal life, which apparently lurks in the field outside our bedroom window. And our son awoke at 2 a.m. the other morning, panicked and convinced that a tarantula had hopped across his bed.

Yet, it was our local FFA chapter’s annual banquet that kept me alert until the wee hours one morning. I returned home from the celebration excited for the future of our small school’s agriculture program. Driven by adrenaline, I completed some bookwork, replied to emails and finished a project for a community service event. I figured it was time for bed when network television began to broadcast infomercials.

The successful FFA banquet spoke volumes about the agriculture instructor and students, as well as the community’s passion for both of those ingredients. The room emitted energy, first fueled by the evident depth of quality students (who, by the way, each presented briefly to the audience). Soon after, the crowd participated in a heartfelt, student-led standing ovation to express sincere gratitude for their agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. At the end, the community lit the room on financial fire with its overwhelming and widespread support at the live fundraising auction. The proceeds directly benefit the school’s FFA and agriculture program.

I could boast more specifically about our community’s agriculture commitment. Rather, I believe the event epitomizes the agriculture sector’s impact in communities across Illinois. I have yet to experience a niche trade with as much structured and passionate, steadfast community support for its youth and future as found in agriculture. Amid all of agriculture’s changes over the decades – satellite-guided tractors included – the sector steers a steady course with its values and support system for youth. That support proves as important as ever in the current environment, in which the state budget proposal includes zero funding for agriculture education.

The following Sunday, the banquet rightfully earned a mention during the joyful blessings portion of our small-town church worship service. Community members had filled the school cafeteria for the event, where even local residents without kids or relatives in the FFA program attended. Among them sat members of our local FFA Alumni affiliate. The organization facilitates a relationship between avid agriculture supporters and agriculture students, a unique dynamic that prompts learning on both ends of the age spectrum. Meanwhile, these supporters provide funding, access to resources and keep the program in tune with our state’s farming and food needs.

Farm families desire to leave the land better than they found it. Likewise, agriculture communities work to attain the same ideal for their agriculture education programs. After seeing this aspiration take action, I likely smiled in my sleep.

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