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FFA: It Shaped My Life & My World View

February 24, 2017 12:00 AM

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"I believe" are two of the most powerful words in our language. Anyone who has worn the blue corduroy jacket of the National FFA Organization knows those words as the beginning of the FFA Creed.

"I believe in the future of agriculture" is the first full phrase of that creed. The principles expressed in its 259 words have served as a compass that has guided me in my career in public service and agriculture. I learned to recite that creed from memory as a freshman in the Battlefield Chapter at Gettysburg High School, wearing my new blue FFA jacket.


FFA offers a rare opportunity to stand in front of your peers and state what you believe. FFA taught me how to engage with others when delivering speeches, both prepared and extemporaneous. I met people from a diverse cross-section of the agriculture industry and from across the Keystone State, and through that exposure I learned how to develop my thoughts and opinions. It all officially started with that creed speaking competition, which is still an integral part of the FFA experience today.


But my exposure to FFA started in parochial school, when seasoned vocational agriculture teacher George Glenn would visit my older brothers Larry and Gary on our farm to review their dairy cattle projects. Supervised Agricultural Experiences, or SAEs, are at the heart of the FFA program. I was lucky to be exposed to Mr. Glenn's tutelage, learning from him through my brothers' experiences. When I arrived at high school, I was excited to join the Future Farmers of America, as it was known then.


It was Mr. Glenn who encouraged me to pursue formal studies in agricultural education at Penn State. He, like my other agriculture teachers, Tom Oyler and Ron Sollenberger, saw the potential within me. So in my junior year of high school, I added the academic track to my vocational agriculture track – but always kept my FFA jacket with me.


The FFA jacket is the equivalent of a varsity letterman jacket, an identifier of your accomplishments, especially with awards pinned across the front. There is a transformative power within that corduroy, too; when you take the jacket off, you aren't the same person you used to be. And you only learn that by way of reflection, looking back at who you once were.


After high school, I received a new jacket when I was selected as Pennsylvania State FFA vice president, and the "Battlefield" chapter title was replaced with "Pennsylvania." I took that jacket with me when I was selected to represent Pennsylvania by running for a national FFA office. I wasn't selected, but it was another valuable experience for this farm boy from Adams County.


My FFA jacket, and the agricultural education degree that I later pursued, shaped my worldview. FFA experiences were the only times I traveled far from the farm, including my first trip to Penn State University and my first national convention journey to Kansas City, Mo. Those experiences gave me a greater understanding of the world of opportunities open to me and solidified my belief in the future of agriculture.


Today’s FFA members experience the same unique vocational agriculture system offered when I was in high school. Now, as then, FFA exists in conjunction with classroom instruction and hands-on learning through SAEs.


While some FFA alumni pursue careers outside the agriculture industry, they take with them a passion for the industry and the leadership skills provided by the National FFA Organization, as it's known today. As the creed states, we believe in the promise of better days through better ways.


FFA empowers our youth, and I believe in the future of Pennsylvania agriculture because I believe in them.​

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