Last fall I had to remove all of my belongings from my childhood bedroom. It was a trip down memory lane as I found item after item that prompted funny stories on my social media (my Backstreet Boys themed retainer), calls to friends to laugh about our teenage antics (note pages filled with MASH games, IYKYK…), and reminiscing on the things that made me who I am (FFA jackets, amongst other things).
Those FFA jackets? I had five of the dang things in a closet. One was not mine, but the others were. It seems aggressive to have four of them (and I know others who have even more). They’re basically all the same thing – blue corduroy, stitched with gold, zipped up the front, and adorned with a couple of patches. The only difference between my jackets was the role embroidered under my name and the group I was representing embroidered on the back. Those groups changed as I grew up – grew in age, experience, and role.
I spent a while going through those jackets, finding things in nearly all the pockets, and thinking about the time I spent in them. The things I learned in them. The celebrations I had in them as well as the tears I shed. Those jackets went through a lot with me. And the time I spent in them formed a lot of who I am today.
And it wasn’t just the time I was physically zipped into one of the jackets that formed me (though there was A LOT of time). It was countless hours during a five-year period as a member of the National FFA Organization that did it. In my ag classes, practicing for career development events before or after school, attending conventions and camps, and more. It was all of it.
You’re wearing that jacket whether you are actually wearing it or not.
In the same way that my life was impacted by a blue corduroy jacket, millions of others have been too. And I’m not exaggerating when I say millions. There are over currently 735,000 student members as I write this, and this organization has been around since 1928.
From the National FFA Website: “FFA is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.” It basically uses agriculture and natural resources as a platform to help students develop leadership and career skills.
The motto is Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve. While all of that is important to the organization, the “Doing to Learn” part is one of the things that sets it so far apart. High school students are learning very legitimate life and career skills by actually doing them.
FFA has Career Development Events, which are competitive events focused on the different skills that FFA promotes and teaches. The spectrum of activities is wide and so diverse. On one end you have things like job interview (students literally compete for who can write the best cover letter and resume and interview best with a committee for a made up job) and on the other end you have things like soil judging (students walk through a pit, identifying the layers, type, and texture, etc.). In between, you have students creating marketing plans, delivering speeches, arranging flowers, identifying weeds, and so many other things.
Other parts of the motto, like “Earning to Live” can be seen in students building legitimate businesses, keeping record books, learning how to file taxes, and all that goes into that. “Living to Serve”? There are national days of service, students collecting food for underserved communities, and students volunteering their time in a variety of ways.
I could go on for hours about the different activities and lessons and topics that get covered and the ways they benefit students, but I’m going to keep it summarized.
The skills learned in these events and other parts of FFA are things that alumni use in our jobs and lives regularly. In both obvious and less obvious situations. In college, I taught a group of my sorority sisters how to properly make motions and use parliamentary rules in chapter meetings. Quick, but very important note: if you are making a motion, it is “I move (insert motion here)” it is NOT “I make a motion.”
There are companies that know the kinds of skills that FFA develops, and they hire alumni specifically because they were members. That’s how I got my job with Syngenta, which you can read about here, if you care to.
By being in FFA, students are gaining legitimate, real, tangible skills that benefit themselves and, dare I say, society as a whole. Also, it’s really damn fun. I didn’t do it for five years because I knew I’d get a good job out of it. I did it because I was a teenager who enjoyed the content and the friendships and the competition and all of that.
Whether you were in FFA, or not. Whether you are in ag, or not. This is an organization worth supporting. That support can come in a variety of ways. It can be donating your time to a chapter local to you: coaching their events if you have the skills, judging their events, or helping in other ways. The support can also be monetary.
Each year, Give FFA Day takes place in February to raise funds for the organization. This year it is February 24th. You can, of course, donate any day of the year, but on Give FFA Day many generous donors and companies commit to matching pledges that make individual donations stretch even further. Money can be given to individual states, the national leadership fund, or you can donate to the Give the Gift of Blue program.
Give the Gift of Blue is set up to purchase FFA jackets for those students who are unable to afford them themselves. Those jackets, which are full of meaning and treasured for a lifetime. You can also donate to this fund any time of the year.
If you feel inclined, you can follow the link below and donate to this incredible organization.
It’s been 17 years since I zipped myself into one of those jackets for the first time. 17 years to learn and then put what I learned into practice. And, in more recent years, to do what I can to give back to the organization that gave so much to me. I hope that you can join me.