Photo and caption available
Conversation with National FFA President Brian Walsh Video
Kansas welcomed the National FFA Organization’s president for National FFA Week, Feb. 15-22.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – A tradition that began in 1947, National FFA Week is always celebrated on the week that includes the first U.S. president’s birthday. Why? George Washington wasn’t only a good leader and politician. He was an innovative agriculturalist and farmer.
According to the National FFA Organization, National FFA Week is an opportunity for FFA members, alumni and sponsors to advocate for agricultural education and FFA. The organization is one of the country’s largest youth organizations with more than 579,000 members, and the current president, Brian Walsh of Woodstock, Va., celebrated National FFA Week in one of the country’s top 10 agricultural states—Kansas.
Walsh accompanied the Kansas FFA state officer team on a trip around the state to visit various FFA chapters, agricultural businesses, and even the Kansas Capitol to talk with lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback, a former state FFA officer for Kansas.
“We’ve been to all four corners, from southeast to northwest,” Walsh said. “(Kansas) is a diverse state in terms of agriculture.”
Walsh grew up less than 100 miles west of Washington, D.C., where he raised hogs and lambs on a small farm. In high school, he said teachers and friends encouraged him to pursue leadership positions in FFA. He eventually became the national president last November and is one of six national officers who represent FFA members and agricultural education students across the United States.
“This year, we will travel about 120,000 miles and visit 35 to 40 different states talking to students about leadership and motivating them to continue to grow upon opportunities that FFA allows every one of us to have,” Walsh said. “We’ll talk to alumni, sponsors and different supporters of FFA to continue to grow our brand, continue to grow our membership and continue to grow what we do for the future of agriculture.”
Diversity is the key to growth
According to the National FFA Organization, agriculture is the largest employer in the United States. More than 23 million jobs, or 17 percent of the civilian workforce, relate to some area of agriculture. Walsh said the growth in FFA membership is largely due to the diversity of the jobs available in agriculture. Many of these jobs are new from 20, 30 and 40 years ago.
“As an organization, we prepare students for those careers within the agricultural industry, whether that’s a leadership position, sales or production farming,” Walsh said. “Agriculture is no longer about just the farm. It’s about so much more. It’s transporting products all the way from the farm to the consumer, and students are interested in that.”
Elizabeth Allen of Holton, Kan., is a sophomore at Kansas State University majoring in agribusiness and the current Kansas FFA sentinel. Allen accompanied Walsh during National FFA Week activities in Kansas. She said that in addition to the diverse career opportunities that FFA trains students to pursue, the organization also provides numerous leadership opportunities that have helped grow the membership.
“Students are able to grow and develop through FFA,” Allen said. “It’s neat to see how people come back from (leadership) conferences pumped up and ready to go in their chapters.”
Conveying agriculture’s message
Young leaders with diversified experience in agriculture are necessary to teach a diverse consumer base about where their food comes from, Walsh said. Agricultural literacy programs through FFA help members increase knowledge and awareness about food production.
“I think we’re living in a time when there are so many choices,” he said. “Agriculture has a mission, and that’s to feed a growing population, a population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. We need to be able to continue to be efficient, while at the same time allow consumers to have a choice.”
Consumers, Walsh said, should understand the need for all forms of agriculture and recognize that diversity in production gives them more food choices.
“Diversity within the industry allows us to eat three times a day and allows us to make choices every day,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, we do have a job of feeding a world that is already hungry and a world that is going to continue to be hungry.”
Nina Crutchfield, local program success specialist with the National FFA Organization, said young people are the solution to feeding the population as it expands. The National FFA’s initiative, “Feeding our world, starting at home,” teaches students how to identify and work to solve hunger.
“We’re giving young people the basic skills in the classroom to (raise food) in their own yards and to teach other people how to do that,” Crutchfield said. “Our young people are involved in food service learning projects and teach communities how to feed themselves.”
Allen said even in Kansas, people struggle getting adequate nutrition, and the Kansas FFA officer team is working to teach students about advancing agricultural production with limited water and other natural resources.
“Looking where our state has to go, we have so much opportunity,” she said. “We try to make sure all of the opportunities are out there for members, so they know what they can do in FFA and how FFA can lead them to different careers in the future.”
To find out more about the National FFA Organization, log on to National FFA Organization. More about the Kansas FFA Foundation can be found at the Kansas FFA Foundation.