When I flip through the news channels, I’m having a harder time finding heroes. Congress doesn’t impress me much. Athletes making a gazillion dollars a year don’t warrant my affection. Movie and music stars don’t receive my adulation. So I look around me for heroes I can hug.
Well, I found 56,000 new ones this week. A bit too many to hug, but certainly easy to spot: they all wear blue corduroy jackets emblazoned with the FFA (Future Farmers of America) logo. Most of them were still in High School.
They are my new heroes. I found them all at Annual FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. In total, there are 579,000 FFA members scattered all across the U.S. Only 10% went to the convention, but it is still one of the largest conventions in the United States.
I was invited to attend by Kent Shescke, the Government Relations Director for FFA in D.C. Kent and I co-chair the Advocacy Committee for the Alliance to End Hunger in DC. When I visited a couple of weeks ago with he and the CEO of FFA, Dwight Armstrong, they insisted that I come to be inspired. They said I’d be impressed. That was the understatement of the year.
I was more than impressed; I went to a whole new level of hero-worship. Trying to keep my attention through a two and a half hour session of anything is darn near impossible. But I sat enraptured at the session on Wednesday evening- almost all of which was conducted by the students. I laughed with them. I danced with them. I gave standing ovations with them. I cried with them. It was the first time in the 25 years I’ve been out of high school that I honestly wish I could have gone back. Had I the opportunity to have a do-ever, I would join the FFA.
Here is what impressed me the most about the students and the organization:
Tied to the soil- I grew up in rural Kansas and have a great deal of respect for those who make their life with farming and ranching. They feed the world, literally, every day and increasing demands are placed on them to grow even more food. Did you know that to feed the rising population in the next thirty years, agricultural production has to increase by 70%?
Work ethic – The work that I do with Outreach Meal Packaging Events engages thousands of volunteers and I can always spot a farm kid among the people working; they work harder than anyone else and never complain. I heard one speaker from an international company say that cost of hiring an FFA member was significantly lower than normal employees because of their work ethic and attitude.
Entrepreneurial- I sat in awe as I watched dozens of short videos of students who showcased their FFA projects. High school students that already have successful businesses! They aren’t pie-in-the-sky hopes of running a business; they are already doing it. One young student has 3,300 chickens and supplies numerous grocery stores with Chelsey’s Gourmet Pasture Eggs. And she’s still in High School! Bet she doesn’t spend much time in front of the T.V.
Values- Frequently, I heard their motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve. Woven through every inspirational speech, each presentation of awards, each passing of the baton to the next leader, were the consistent values that make America great.
Leadership – I heard numerous stories, like former FFA member Katie Pratt, who told of being an embarrassingly introverted high school student and, because of FFA, was recently named the Face of Farming and Ranching. An electrifying speaker, she attributes her success to leadership values she learned at FFA.
Compassion– They are galvanizing their efforts to eliminate hunger with their Feeding the World—Starting at Home initiative led by the inspirational Marilyn Ross. They had the coolest- and largest- hunger exhibit I have ever seen set up in their expo hall. They understand that the answers to the burgeoning problem of global hunger are found within the agricultural communities.
Community- I sat in a hotel lobby and watched about 30 pairs of male and female FFA students walk arm-in-arm down a hallway, a tremendous symbol of solidarity amidst diversity. That blue jacket is more powerful than Dorothy’s red shoes. Not only does it connect them to a rich heritage, it binds them together in common ideals, values, and collaboration. They know they are part of a community because of the blue and gold.
If you ever worry about the future of America, find your local FFA Chapter and go hang with them for a while. You’ll sleep much better at night knowing our future is in the hands of creative, hard-working, compassionate, and entrepreneurial people who are barely old enough to have drivers licenses. They’re not all farm kids. Many of them are from urban settings deep in large cities. But they are FFA.
I move that we send them to D.C. tomorrow and let them straighten out the mess that is Congress. Do I hear a second to that motion? I’m sure the vote would be unanimous.