Oct. 25 2021 08:00 AM

Sometimes it takes just one experience or one event to spark a young person’s interest in agriculture.

I attended my first National FFA Convention when I was a sophomore in high school. At that point in my FFA career, I had been involved locally and had competed at a few judging and speaking contests at district and state levels, but I was still relatively green in my understanding of FFA and all it had to offer.

After a charter bus ride from Wisconsin to Kansas City, Mo., my classmates and I changed into our “official dress” (white shirts, black pants or skirts, black shoes, and FFA jackets) and headed with our advisor to the opening session of the National FFA Convention. Seated in that large auditorium among a sea of blue corduroy jackets is when I first began to appreciate the scope of the organization and the breadth of agriculture.

The National FFA officers who led the sessions and the guest speakers during the convention were filled with enthusiasm and passion — for agriculture, for leadership, and for service. On this large stage in front of thousands of students, they brought to life the words spoken during the opening and closing sessions of every FFA meeting across the country.

My convention experience did not influence me to run for a national FFA office, but it did help me see how the organization was so much bigger than just me and my chapter. It taught me that there were students across the country like me who came from farms or had an interest in agriculture, and that this was something to be proud of.

I am sure that National FFA Convention was the moment that inspired some students to pursue a state or national FFA officer position. Or maybe it was the push that led some young leaders to set their sights on becoming agriculture teachers and FFA advisors.

For students in agriculture, an array of activities and moments can spark a passion that leads to an eventual career path or a life dedicated to the industry. It could be a quiz bowl competition, success in the showring, a trip to the National 4-H Dairy Conference, a job or internship, or another experience — big or small — that proved to be a motivating moment in a young person’s life.

Thank you to the FFA advisors who go above and beyond, just like my advisor did, to make trips to National Convention educational, fun, and affordable so that students could learn about FFA and so much more. Thank you to the leaders of 4-H clubs and junior breed associations that organize events for young people to participate in. Thank you to the volunteers who give of their time and talents to teach, and possibly inspire, young people to be better and do more.

As I think about the sea of blue jackets that will be converging onto Indianapolis, Ind., this week, I am reminded of the teachers and leaders who provided me with opportunities and experiences when I was growing up. I am thankful for the people who created the moments that taught me, influenced me, and provided memories that I have carried with me through the years.

Abby Bauer

The author is the senior associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.