Marilyn Hershey
One thing I have always admired about my husband, Duane, is his ability to run a meeting smoothly and effortlessly. Orchestrating a boardroom is a skill he learned while participating on the FFA (Future Farmers of America) Parliamentary Procedure team in high school.

The private school I attended did not have the FFA program. It is a regret I have, not being able to learn and develop those lifelong skills in high school. I see FFA skills being used again and again, especially as it applies to Robert’s Rules of Order.

As I started running meetings and taking motions in the Dairy Management Inc. boardroom, it felt clunky and unprofessional. I was not always comfortable with the next step, and I often texted Duane for advice. If he was not available, I would look around the room to find someone to guide me in the proper response. Most times, the person consulted went through FFA and was on the Parliamentary Procedure team.

FFA is far more than learning Robert’s Rules of Order. A few years ago, our friends’ son, Scott, had the tremendous privilege to serve as a Pennsylvania State FFA Officer. I asked Scott, “What FFA skills were carried along on your various directions post-FFA?” He did not hesitate when he said, “Public speaking and teamwork.”

FFA is widely recognized and respected across the country as a premier leadership program for America’s youth. This has been going on for nearly a century and thankfully, the organization remains strong.

Back in the era of FFA’s inception, farming was a familiar occupation. It was not uncommon for farm kids to be involved in FFA, and they typically had a family farm business to return to. The lifelong skills they learned in the program were turned around and used at the home farming operation after they graduated.

Today, FFA is not just forming farm kids to return to their family farms. Just as much, if not more often, FFA is shaping students who do not have a farming background but want to be involved in agriculture.

Time after time, I hear stories of a young person coming through the FFA program, gaining a respect for agriculture and pursuing a career in a totally different direction than their family had ever seen. Farming seeds were planted in them during their FFA years, and the love and respect that they developed for farming outweighs any other direction in life.

We have a young lady working for us who tells that story. Her family relocated to this area from Philadelphia. As Susan became involved in the FFA program, her love for farming grew, and today she is pursuing a career in agriculture.

When Susan came for her job interview and mentioned her involvement in FFA, I knew that she had a learned behavior of respect for people and animals. These are two critical points I appreciate in employees.

This story is not unique and is duplicated across the country. It is also another reason why I hold FFA in high regard. I find it refreshing when I meet FFA youth who are enthusiastic about agriculture.

This is an amazing opportunity for agriculture. We all realize the need to tell our story with respect, truthfulness, and science. FFA has the depth and wide range of participants that gives agriculture a broad reach of understanding.

Although FFA has been through changes, there are foundational teachings that remain strong. Respect of others and self, leadership skills, integrity, work ethic, and standing behind progressive agriculture are rock-solid teachings within the organization.

There are more than half a million student members across this country. That is a lot of young people who are being taught to respect where their food comes from. They can turn around and take that critical message into whatever career they pursue.

I recently received a gift from our local FFA chapter. It is a T-shirt with these words on the back of the shirt: “Learning to do, doing to learn, learning to live, living to serve.”

FFA is more than making motions and running meetings. It encompasses hopeful messages of opportunity, develops quality habits, and builds trust that continues on for generations.

Duane’s jacket still hangs in the closet. It has gathered a lot of dust in the corduroy over the years, but that is just fine. The pride for the program and the beliefs far exceed the dust. The jacket saw the light of day a few times when our son, Robert, wore it in high school as he was waiting for his jacket to arrive.

This past year, my niece, Sarah, received her FFA jacket. Being early in her high school career, it is too soon to say what direction Sarah’s steps will take her. But, with the strong upbringing she has from home and the lessons she will glean in the FFA program, I am confident the blue and gold jacket will give her solid footing everywhere she goes.

The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.