FFA empowers students to fight for their futures

Members of the California Future Farmers of America gathered in Anaheim to immerse themselves in a convention full of leadership training and career success

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When one thinks of the Future Farmers of America, a clear image likely comes to mind: endless rows of sheep, cows and other livestock accompanied by rolling waves of grain extending to the horizon, all attended to by the next generation of agricultural workers. However, the reality that is found at an FFA convention significantly varies from any preconceived notions about American rural life. At the 91st annual California FFA State Convention, students from across the state of California gathered to participate in a display of individual empowerment and family-like bonding.

The convention, held this year from April 25 to 28 at the Anaheim Convention Center, allowed students from across the state of California to showcase their skills in a variety of fields from agricultural sciences to public speaking and leadership. Unsurprisingly, many of the students at the convention had a background in a multitude of agricultural fields. Zack Skidmore, a senior at Golden West High School in Visalia, has a background that many would expect from an FFA member.

“I’m a traditional ‘aggie,’ I’ve been raised in an agricultural family and I’ve had parents, cousins and uncles who have been involved with the FFA before me,” Skidmore said. “I’ll be attending Reedley College next year and I’ll be majoring in welding technology as well as manufacturing technology, where I hope to go into agricultural manufacturing-related fields.”

While the experiences of Skidmore are representative of a large part of the FFA membership from rural areas of California, not all FFA members come from such traditional “aggie” backgrounds. Lucie Reyna, a sophomore at Pioneer High School in Woodland, initially aroused the suspicions of her non-agricultural family when she wanted to join the FFA chapter at her school.

© HAWKEYE Matthew Hipolito

“I think my family didn’t really understand why I wanted to join FFA, because my dad is an engineer and so he didn’t understand why I wanted to be in an agricultural organization,” Reyna said. “But then I started doing it more, and he started to realize that [FFA] is really good for me, and that impacted him to open his eyes to the opportunities that FFA offers.”

While the FFA may have originally been an organization exclusively for the rural farmers of America, the demographics of the modern FFA show that this is no longer the case. Cole Parker, a freshman at Liberty Ranch High School near Sacramento, has seen both students from the city and the countryside be successful in FFA.

“I know half of the [FFA] members at our school live in urban areas,” Parker said. “They have animals and they’re on FFA teams, and they’re just as hard working as we are and we live out in the country.”

FFA also broadens the horizons of its members in ways that go beyond exposing them and their families to new career and educational opportunities. For Glenda Stewart, a junior at Reedley High School in Reedley, involvement with the FFA opened her eyes to a diverse community that allowed her to connect more deeply with the agricultural field. Stewart, as an African-American and Filipina at a school with little diversity, experienced much hardship to establish her own place within her chapter.

“It was a lot of bullying and a lot of just me not feeling like i belonged,” Stewart said. “Then, coming to the [FFA] conventions and meeting new people that were of color also, it was really good to come [to FFA conventions] and just relate in a bigger sense because it is really hard to find those who understand what you feel and what you’re going through.”

The travails that Stewart endured throughout her journey as a woman of color pursuing an agricultural field in a relatively low diversity area taught her crucial lessons about the need for perseverance when fighting for one’s future.

“You always have to keep trying, you can’t give up,” Stewart said. “There’s times you’re going to be pushed down…but also there’s a community that lifts you up and knows a little bit more of what you’re talking about.”

You always have to keep trying, you can’t give up. There’s times you’re going to be pushed down…but also there’s a community that lifts you up and knows a little bit more of what you’re talking about.”

— Glenda Stewart

In addition to the plethora of personal growth activities completed by FFA members throughout the year, the FFA is also heavily involved in community service on the local, state and national levels. Skidmore’s FFA chapter in particular helped raise money for relief money to send to victims of the destructive 2018 wildfires that ravaged California through a creative, agriculturally-inspired method.  

“[The Golden West FFA Chapter] put jars into teachers’ classrooms and students filled up those jars with change,” Skidmore said. “The top three teachers with the greatest amount of collected money got to kiss a cow, a goat and a sheep. In the end, we raised over $2,300 for wildfire relief through the Red Cross.”

Inez Garcia, and her FFA chapter from Highland High School, completed community service throughout the school year to address the problem of severe air pollution in her community.

“Where I come from we have really bad air quality, so one of our main community service events was to plant trees in different neighborhoods around the area,” Garcia said. “Last time, we planted 10 trees around our area.”

The service completed by Garcia and her chapter also extends into the maintenance of recreational facilities that are used by her whole community.

“My [FFA] chapter is involved in cleaning up our local parks so kids can feel more safe there,” Garcia said.

The sense of community that FFA chapters engender in the areas in which it has active chapters reflects the strong bonds that tie the organization together. It is rare to find an FFA member who refers to the organization as anything less than a supportive family that always has their backs in all of their FFA-related endeavors.

We have a really close knit community, which has allowed me to break out of my introverted shell.”

— Inez Garcia

“Pretty much all high schools from everywhere in the state come [to the state convention] to talk and work together,” Garcia said. “We have a really close knit community, which has allowed me to break out of my introverted shell.”

As an agriculturally-focused organization, the FFA instills in its student members the skills and practices that they need to be successful in careers relating to any agricultural fields. However, the leadership and community-oriented values that membership in the organization fosters will remain with its alumni for a lifetime. Whatever the attendees of the 2019 California FFA State Convention choose to pursue in life, they will always carry with them the confidence, ability to form social connections and desire to serve their community that FFA has awakened. 

Members share their favorite facts about agriculture

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