Off-Farm Income

Last Saturday night at about 11pm my wife and I touched down at the airport, exhausted from an incredible but very active week in Indianapolis.  We had been at the National FFA Convention all week, walked dozens of miles and met hundreds of incredible people.  We had seen the future leaders of our country, with all of their hope and promise, talent and work ethic, on display for the whole world to see.  And then, just like that, it was over.

After the plane came to a stop at the gate we walked through the empty airport, retrieved our bags and found our car.  Driving through the night we found our way back to our farm, back to our normal life and the last little bit of travel adrenaline wore off.

Our daughter had flown to and from the convention with her FFA chapter, so she had beat us home.  She was already in bed, and there was no waking her.  My wife made her way to bed and to sleep as quickly as possible, but I wasn’t quite ready.

I had been gone for five days, and I missed the farm.  It was a beautiful night so I decided to take a walk and check a few things before heading to bed.  The chickens were all locked up, the pigs had feed and water and the cows and goats were bedded down where they should be.  Nothing was amiss, and from the perspective of our livestock it was like we had never left.

The night was quiet and clear, and I stood looking at the stars.  As I stood there thinking about the great week that we had just concluded I heard a train blow its horn as it approached town.  I couldn’t help but smile.  Just six hours earlier I had pulled off the side of Interstate 57 to take a picture in front of the Kankakee sign as we drove towards Chicago.

We had flown in and out of Chicago and rented a car so we could get a look at the “houses, farms and fields” of Illinois and Indiana on our way to and from the convention.  I had purposefully chosen this route on our way back so I could see this town with the funny sounding name that Steve Goodman wrote about and Willie Nelson sang about in the great song, “The City Of New Orleans”.

Coordinated Inspiration

As I stood there a thought entered my mind and my smile began to grow and grow.  At the same time that we had made our way back to our farm, tens of thousands of American youth were making their way back to theirs.  All across the country FFA students were making late night arrivals at their family farms, ranches and rural towns as they returned from this great convention.

I imagined these students looking up at the stars in their own hometowns, inspired by the time they had just spent in Indiana and dreaming of what their futures would be.  There is a big world out there and it is filled with opportunities.  However, if you are never exposed to those ideas or nobody ever tells you about them, you don’t even know they exist.

For the 55,000+ FFA students who were able to attend this great convention they couldn’t help but be excited.  This whole world of opportunity was brought to them and placed at their feet, all under one roof.  Whether their path is in the military, the trades, college, niche farming or production agriculture, everywhere they turned there was somebody who was eager to have them join them in their vocation and call to service.

I could not fathom how many thousands of students at that moment were telling themselves, “I didn’t know you could do that for a career” or who had received the spark necessary to light the fire in their souls that had just been waiting to burn.

If all the adults in the expo hall reaching out to these youth by metaphorically saying “follow me and serve your fellow man” weren’t enough, there were the general sessions.  The folks at the FFA are experts at creating an environment that first gets you very excited, followed by inspiration after inspiration in each of these general sessions.

No Excuses

The best thing this convention does, whether or not this is intentional, is that it removes all excuses.  In every session there are FFA students on the stage that are achieving at a very high level.  From the National Officers who run the show, to future professional musicians, to American Stars and Proficiency Finalists, you are shown the best of the best.  The stories of these students and how they made it to that stage are told to you, and every student sees what is possible.

For example, if a student had just found out about a dream career in the expo and told yourself, “that’s for other people, I could never do that”, in the general session they would get a metaphorical wake up call from the stories of the students on the stage that would leave them with only one answer - “If they did it, I can do it too, the only thing holding me back is me”.  That is a sobering thought, but it is also freeing and it is just what these students need to hear to be able to unleash their greatness.

Student after student walks across that stage.  Some receive the highest awards, others do not, but every nominee has achieved things that even adults only dream about.

Whether it is the agriscience research finalist whose research began during his freshman year of high school and has now taken him around the world.  Or the agribusiness finalist who saw a need at livestock shows that was not being filled and at 19 years of age flies all over the country fulfilling this need for his clients.  Or the agricultural placement finalist who had to find a way to fill a major void on his families farm and continue high school when Covid decimated their employee staff.  Or a star farmer candidate who started leasing land at an early age and building their own herd to now find themselves in a position to farm for their living.  Student after student and story after story erases excuse after excuse and replaces them with inspiration.

Neither a student nor an adult can leave a general session without a sense of inspiration and a renewed vigor that makes them believe they can go conquer the world!  Every student and every adult takes a lot more home with them from the convention than they brought.  I bring home so much energy and inspiration that I almost feel selfish.

Organizational Success

To go the FFA’s National Convention is to see unbelievable stories of individual success.  However, it is also to see an incredible example of organizational success.  The 2021 National FFA convention is the 94th iteration of this great event.  Since 1928 the National FFA has been chasing a vision of unity, fraternity, education and inclusion in agriculture.  The result has been unbelievable growth in the number of chapters and students who choose to be part of this organization.

In the midst of the activities, music, lights and competitions of the National FFA Convention one tends to see the individual achievement only.  However, if you sit down and watch students walk by, reading the names of the states that they are from on the back of their jackets you see how this kernel of an idea that sprouted almost 100 years ago has transformed agriculture and the lives of millions of American youth since that day.

There is no hall of fame for youth organizations or non-profit associations.  When one is finally created, the FFA will be a first ballot, charter member.  There is room in the FFA for everyone, whether you live in a neighborhood or on a farm.  The FFA will teach you the skills you need to succeed and expose you to a career or aptitude that will allow you to thrive.

Find your inspiration, find your purpose and find it in the FFA! 

Direct download: OFI_1218_Tuesday_Episode_-_11121_6.03_PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT