When I’m asked to describe FFA, I begin with the mission: “FFA develops the potential of students for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
Just how it all works is captured in the last part of that statement: “through agricultural education.” For 79 years, this proven process has been summed up with simple eloquence in the FFA motto:
Learning to Do
Doing to Learn
Earning to Live
Living to Serve
“Learning to Do.” The first order of business in agricultural education is to lay a solid foundation of knowledge that encompasses the science, business and technology of agriculture. Through classroom and laboratory instruction agriculture teachers impart fundamental and advanced concepts for students.
“Doing to Learn.” Once the academic foundation is established, students put learning into practice by applying math and science, language and arts, technology and business to real-world situations. Here’s where the real developmental magic takes place. The tools for “doing” are many: Each student has a supervised agricultural experience project, or SAE, that could involve creating and operating a business or conducting an agriscience research project.
FFA is a vital part of learning by doing. FFA award and degree programs recognize students for excellence in academics, career development, leadership and community service. At this convention, we will celebrate the accomplishments of thousands of FFA members for skills in leadership, communications, team work, problem solving, character, community service and citizenship.
“Earning to Live” is the point of an education. In agricultural education, students discover their passions and talents while exploring careers. FFA members set life goals and map out educational pathways to satisfying careers. There are over 300 different careers in agriculture, covering such areas as biotechnology, landscaping, forestry, food technology, engineering, communications, marketing and, yes, farm and ranch management. Our students can explore them all to find the right fit.
Finally, “Living to Serve.” The philosophy behind the leadership and personal growth activities of FFA is that all Americans need to be prepared for active engagement in civic life and service to others. That’s why many of the members attending this convention will participate in the FFA National Day of Service activities here in Indianapolis Thursday—to make a contribution, to learn firsthand that helping others is what builds character and develops communities. That’s why FFA chapters have been issued the “Million Hour Challenge” to compile a million hours of community service over the course of a year.
I know many of you are meeting our FFA family for the first time. While some already know us well, others are just discovering the world of agricultural education. Let me share several points that will put you on the same page as the veterans.
First, and most important, FFA members are incredibly diverse, and they represent so much more than farming. Our members come from every corner of the country—urban, suburban and rural—and they are preparing for diverse careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. It would be a mistake to think of them as “farm kids.” The organization was founded as “Future Farmers of America” in 1928, but in response to the incredible diversification of agriculture and our membership, we’ve been known as “The National FFA Organization” for the past 20 years.
Second, when using the word “agriculture,” we are referring to the full spectrum of 300 diverse careers. You may be surprised to hear that 17 percent of working Americans are engaged in some aspect of the food, fiber and natural resources industry. That’s why we plan to grow the number of agricultural science education programs in this country from 7,200 to 10,000 over the next ten years. That’s why we’re enhancing the quality of agricultural science instruction at all levels.
By supporting the work of FFA and agricultural science education in the coming years, each of you will have a profound impact on the lives of our next generation. That’s a power not to be underestimated. The partnerships being forged in Indiana will ensure the national FFA convention continues to serve agriculture teachers and students with a world class educational experience.