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The Choice That Defined Me

May 14, 2020

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Can you pinpoint a moment in your life, a choice, that led to everything else? Maybe that one decision didn’t cause everything else to happen, and anything afterward could have pointed you in a different direction, but you know that if you hadn’t made the one original choice, nothing else would have been the same? I can say with 100% certainty what choice in my life led me to where I am today.

My choice was FFA

The summer before my freshman year in high school, I was considering whether or not to participate in FFA once school started. If you aren’t familiar, FFA is a youth organization that focuses on agriculture and leadership development (you can learn more about it here). My mom and dad, brother, cousins, both grandfathers, uncles, and my aunt were all members and I knew it was a great organization. However, at 13, I was into the idea of blazing my own trail and not following in my family’s footsteps. But I was also a social teenager who wanted to make new friends and have fun. All it took was one exciting promo video and my teenage self was no longer bothered by the idea that practically everyone in my family had done it. I was in.

Looking back, I can’t imagine what direction my life would have taken if I hadn’t made that choice. It’s not that my life would have derailed if I hadn’t joined, but FFA basically contributed to every major thing in my life that has happened since then, at least that I personally had a choice in.

For the next 5 ish years, I practically lived and breathed FFA. I participated in events that taught me valuable skills like how to interview for a job, give an impromptu speech, and use proper meeting procedure. I made friends from across the state and country. I learned that corduroy is neither warm when it’s cold outside, nor breathable when it’s stiflingly hot. And I was lucky enough to serve in multiple levels of leadership.

I ended up spending a year as an Oregon FFA state officer. During that year, I attended an FFA dinner and was seated next to the North American head of a company called Syngenta. Side note: I look back and laugh at 18 year old Jordyn because there was a cute guy sitting on my other side and I spent most of the meal trying to talk to him, instead of the businessman…Teenage priorities are hilarious.

My college choice was based on FFA scholarships that I could only make use of at Oregon State. I was pursuing a degree to become an ag teacher and FFA advisor. While at OSU, I served as a National Collegiate Ag Ambassador, the program I mentioned in this post, which was run by The National FFA Organization and sponsored by Syngenta.

When I was an ambassador, I was sharing agriculture with people who often had no connection to it, but were making choices daily that impact the industry. I realized that was the kind of ag educating I wanted to do, not teaching high schoolers. (High school ag teachers are basically heroes and I can’t commend them enough; I just didn’t want to be one.)

Because I didn’t know of anyone that would pay me to tell grown adults about agriculture, I knew I’d have to pursue a different kind of career for a while. Shortly after deciding not to be an ag teacher, I volunteered at the National FFA Convention and ran into that dinner companion from four years earlier. He pitched me on Syngenta and two weeks later I accepted a job with them. I honestly had no idea what I was signing up for, but I knew it was the right next step.

I spent five and a half years with the company. I worked in three different roles during that time, living in four states – Illinois, Arkansas, Washington, and California. I learned valuable skills in sales and marketing communications, was exposed to crops I’d never seen, and picked up so much information about agriculture that I wished other people knew as well. It took so many of those skills I originally learned in FFA and built upon them. It was an experience I will be forever grateful for.

I am not, by any means, an expert in every area of agriculture, but I know a lot of experts

While in FFA, I attended national events with students from all across the country. As an ag ambassador, I was on a team of 20 college students who had grown up in different areas of agriculture. Working for Syngenta, I lived in those four states, traveled to many others, and had colleagues from all over, including multiple countries. Each of those experiences has not only taught me about different pieces of the ag industry, they have created a vast network of people in those areas.

The last 15 years have filled my contact list with cattle ranchers, entomologists, potato growers, plant scientists, residue specialists, beekeepers, and more. I know people who work in labs, production plants, warehouses, and fields. And each one of those people are willing to connect me to someone else they know in that specialty or another. Many of them aren’t just my network, they are my friends.

Back to where it started

There were a lot of reasons I chose to leave my job and move back to Oregon (many of which I address in this post about quitting) , but at the heart of it was my desire to spend my time teaching about agriculture. I decided to pursue my passion and use my education and experiences to help people understand our food and farm systems, while using freelance communications work to supplement my income. In an incredibly fitting twist of fate, the first freelance project I worked on was marketing materials for an Oregon FFA trip.

You can’t really look back at your life and know what would have happened if you made different choices. Not definitively. Loads of choices were made during the last 15 years and any one of them could have sent me on a different path (and that path could have been really good too). Many choices didn’t have anything to do with FFA, but you can see that it was there, in most of the major events and decisions. I can’t, nor do I want to, get separated from FFA. It’s a big part of me and my history.

As I move forward, pursuing this desire to talk about agriculture full-time, every choice I made, every experience I had, and every person I met along the way will be part of what I share with you. And I hope you enjoy being along for the ride.

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