FFA creates opportunities.
I grew up as an ag kid. Both of my parents are former ag teachers, my grandparents are cattle ranchers, and I began riding horses at just seven years old. I attended FFA conventions and camps as a newborn and sat in classrooms and ag shops as a toddler.
So I was bound to be an FFA member and participate in all of the contests, camps, and conventions I grew up watching from the sidelines.
When I walked into my first ag class my freshman year of high school, I felt an overwhelming sense of calmness and belonging. There were kids in my class who had no ag background, kids who had been showing animals since they were old enough to join the junior FFA, and kids who just needed another class to fill their schedule. Yet, most of us found a place in that classroom. We joined leadership teams, judging teams, showed animals or creative arts projects, became chapter officers, and much more.
Leadership Development Events
Leadership Development Events (LDEs) have contests that reflect real-world scenarios in a variety of aspects. These contests require teams to work together efficiently to solve a problem or execute a script. They help cultivate one’s speaking skills or sharpen their critical thinking abilities.
The first team I ever joined was the junior chapter conducting team made up of seven freshmen. We would meet every morning at 6 a.m. to practice and eat powdered donuts together. We laughed, and we cried, but most importantly, we grew from seven kids who had never seen the inside of a contest room to a state-qualifying team. This was the contest that ignited a fire inside of me.
Career Development Events
Career Development Events (CDEs) build on what students learn inside of the classroom by putting their knowledge into practice. These contests develop college and career-ready skills. Student’s success in these contests contributes to a team score.
My favorite CDE was Homesite Judging, where one evaluates the land to predict potential problems with homes. I tried a couple of other contests before this, but homesite is where I found my niche. It might sound strange, but there was a particular joy in discovering what was possible on a plot of land. I competed in cold weather, hot weather, rainstorms, and every other type of climate you can think of. I even carried an umbrella hat with me to every contest because you never knew what would happen.
Supervised Agricultural Experiences
Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs) allow students to learn by doing. Most people think of showing animals when they hear SAE, but there are many other options if you aren’t interested in doing that.
I had a placement SAE in high school, where I worked on a ranch and received SAE credit since I did not show animals. I also built and showed an ag mech project during my junior and senior years. An ag teacher supervises these projects, but students are solely responsible for how their project turns out. They are extremely rewarding and teach students about responsibility, hard work, and integrity.
Other FFA Events & Experiences
I was able to participate in many other contests throughout my four years of FFA. Mainly because I came from a small 3A high school, and if you were in one contest, you were in several others as well. While you can find a lot of success in this program, you can also have a lot of humbling experiences. I have experienced some of the best wins and also some of the hardest losses.
FFA teaches you real-world skills that you can’t get in a normal classroom. Students need to develop speaking skills, critical thinking skills, and learn how to work with a team. But, it’s also important for kids to learn how to work for what they want. This program can be as rewarding as you want it to be if you’re willing to put the work into it.
Not to mention the conventions, camps, and officer retreats you’ll get to participate in. I remember being at an officer retreat with my chapter and going on a scavenger hunt through the woods in the middle of the night (it was 7 p.m.) to find clues so we could cook our dinner together as an officer team. After what felt like hours of walking around the same group of trees, we found all of the ingredients needed to make a delicious (slightly overcooked) hamburger dinner. It is one of my fondest memories, and I can still recall, 4 years later, every detail of that night. It isn’t always the contests or shows that can shape a person, but things that you can learn from one another.
Like I said in the beginning, FFA creates opportunities. Because of the hard work that I put into my contests, I received a $20,000 scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2019, and I was able to see my sister reap that same reward this year at the state convention. What can I say? FFA runs in our blood!
FFA members are the leaders of tomorrow. It molds kids from all backgrounds into well-rounded individuals. FFA allows kids to find their passion and purpose while staying true to themselves.
I encourage everyone to join or support the FFA, even if you don’t have an ag background. FFA is inclusive, and there is a place for everyone because of the endless opportunities it provides. FFA provided me with friendships, scholarships, and skills that I would not have learned anywhere else.
And as for those seven kids who joined the junior chapter conducting team their freshman year of high school, some of them went on to join the workforce, some of them went to college at Texas A&M and Texas Tech, and some of them went to technical colleges. But they all learned and developed those critical skills needed to succeed in all of their respective fields thanks to the opportunities FFA created for them.
McKenna is a junior at Texas Tech University, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Communications. Over the summer McKenna is interning at Ag Workers Auto Insurance to gain experience in the field of marketing through content creation and networking at various tradeshows and conventions.