Earlier this month, students from local high schools were selected as delegates representing Future Farmers of America (FFA) at the National FFA Convention.
Adam Jones, a senior at Nevada Union High School and president of the local and regional chapter and Shaun Chilton, reporter of Nevada Union FFA and the treasurer of superior region FFA were honored to travel to Indianapolis, Indiana and be part of the FFA’s legacy.
It was only last year that the FFA expanded their membership opportunities to ‘discovery students’ in grades 5 — 8 in California, and Jones and Chilton were able to spread the word to other student FFA members to do the same in their state.
“Students in middle school can be a part of the FFA if their school offers, which is super unique. I mean, that just changed last year,” Chilton said. “How can we get the students to focus on what their future looks like? Giving them different opportunities throughout their middle school career, we are setting them up for success in high school.”
Chilton also said that he spoke to other students on a national level encouraging them to expand opportunities in FFA for all students with varied abilities.
“We focused on expanding opportunities for students with disabilities or different abilities, such as students who spoke Spanish or sign language,” Chilton said.
California has over 100,000 members in the FFA and Jones and Chilton were 2 of 43 selected to represent California at the national level.
“Doing the math, I think we each represented about 3,000 members from our state at the national level, which was really awesome to think about,” Chilton said.
Jones had an opportunity to make changes to policies affecting membership dues for students in other states.
In California, if a student is enrolled in an agriculture class, that student is automatically in the FFA program, in other states, that is not the case, according to Jones.
“I believe under 20 states are the same as California… If I feel like that model has been beneficial to me, you know… talking to other states because not all of them have the same experiences.
“There are about 450 FFA students at Nevada Union and over 350 at Bear River High School,” Chilton said.
The cost to be a FFA member is $10 a year, which can be paid for by a Career and Technical Education (CTE) ag incentive grant or a federal Perkins grant, according to Chilton.
Private schools in California do not qualify for state or federal funds, so they rely on fundraising, according to Chilton.
The selection process to be chosen as a delegate was thorough, Jones said, and it involved several written short essays, a resume of activities and accomplishments in FFA, and interviews with judges. Both FFA delegates said they have participated in speech competitions, which is an important part of preparation in the FFA.
FFA members take pride in their organization and practice speaking clearly and respectfully to members of the public at events, fairs, or on their school campuses.
When people think of the FFA, they automatically think of animals, according to Chilton, but there are many other opportunities including career development, leadership, forestry, ag mechanics, floral design, farm power which is working on tractors, and more.
Members recently did research and made posters and presentations on the 2023 Farm Bill that’s updated every five years, according to Jones.
“The Farm Bill focuses on the allocation of funds from the federal government. They focus on different programs,” Chilton said. “A lot of it is geared towards the conservation practices of farmers and ranchers… the Farm Service agencies provide loans, grants and also crop insurance to support farmers.”
The Farm Bill also provides funds to the MyPlate, the official symbols of the five food groups that replaced the old food pyramid for past decades of dietary guidelines from the USDA, according to Chilton.
“I think that one of the best parts of the conference was to be able to see the different ways that states interpret and use FFA Organization,” Jones said. “We’re under the same umbrella, but it’s all a little bit different everywhere you go, which was really eye opening to me.”
Jones is a regional representative from Sutter County to the Oregon border, excluding the coast, and just added a new chapter in Chico, where some members live right inside a more urban area.
“Some people live right in the middle of town and it still gives them the opportunity,” Jones said.
Braden Smith, a senior at Bear River High School, was a National Ag. Mechanics Contest Competitor at the National FFA Convention as well.
“The National FFA Convention was a very fun experience. The ag. mechanics contest itself was difficult but very fun, and worth it. We got to talk to all the teams from the different states and learn about agriculture in different parts of the US,” Smith said.
Smith went on to say, “The team activity we all did was a diagnostic on a skid steer [A skid steer is a small, versatile piece of construction equipment primarily used for digging, sometimes called a bobcat]… We also made a hay fork attachment to go on it. The individual part we welded, did electrical boards, put together small engine systems, answered questions on soil mapping, calculated flow rate on a field sprayer, along with a written exam. Overall, it was an enriching experience that will last me a lifetime.”
Students also sat down face-to-face with Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, before leaving for the trip to Indianapolis and were congratulated for representing California as FFA leaders.
Being one of 100,000 members in the state, and being able to create changes and leaving a legacy for future members to benefit from was a highlight of the experience according to Chilton.
“FFA is a student-led organization and learning about the members decades before who effected change… we had the opportunity to affect change as well,” Chilton said.
It was the delegates in 1969, who allowed women to become FFA members, and then in 1974 elected the first national FFA female officer, according to Chilton.
“Understanding that the legacy that those members left is now a legacy that we can set for future FFA members is just a super cool opportunity,” Chilton said.