FFA Influences Young Farmers

Two FFA alumni share how they started in agriculture with the national organization.

by Dani Yokhna
The final week of every February is National FFA Week
Courtesy Ashley Chenard
Ashley Chenard built self-confidence by showing her lamb at FFA competitions. Now in college and the Air Force, she continues to educate herself in agriculture-related issues.

Each year during the final week in February, the National FFA Organization and its members celebrate National FFA Week to pay tribute to the agricultural programs that have taught youth about the opportunities in agriculture and influenced their future life paths.

With agriculture careers leading the pack in possibilities for young job seekers, FFA has done its part to inspire and educate the nation’s youth about fields from horticulture, natural resources and production to marketing, communications and education. The 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands boast a total of 7,429 FFA chapters, enrolling students ages 12 to 21 in agriculture-related education programs.

But FFA alumni seek more than just agriculture careers—many are dedicated to living a farm-centered lifestyle, as well.

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Ashley Chenard participated in her FFA chapter in northern California during all four years of high school, where she soaked up several of the opportunities the organization offered. Now, as a member of the Air Force and pursuing an animal science degree, she gardens in her front yard and keeps a horse in the stables of the base. She continues to learn as much about agriculture as she can until she can own a small farm of her own.

“Eventually, I would like to buy some acreage and farm like my mother does, growing enough for my family and selling the rest at a local farmers’ market,” Chenard says. “I would love to raise a variety of heirloom plants and heritage breeds of livestock. Cattle and goats are my favorites!”

Also a current college student, Kelley Portner is studying communications in order to pursue a career as an organizer and promotions specialist for agricultural and equestrian events. She dreams of her future farm—one housing equines of all kinds.

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“I’ve got a soft spot for donkeys and mules,” says Portner, who served as treasurer of her FFA chapter in Urbana, Md. “I would love to raise American Mammoth Jackstock, especially because they are an endangered livestock breed, and even teach lessons with them.”

While both girls feel as though FFA helped cultivate their journey in farm life, the activities they participated in during their FFA days taught them general life lessons they’ve held on to, as well.

Activities are offered to FFA members on the national, state and local levels. Each year, FFA students from around the country attend the National FFA Convention and other national conferences as well as take part in leadership activities in their home states. FFA holds competitions and offers classes that span the breadth of agriculture topics, including science and biology, mechanics, economy, livestock, and floral and nursery.

For both Chenard and Portner, FFA yielded lessons in responsibility and confidence.

“When you were in competitions, you were staring down a panel of judges, and you had a lot to remember,” Portner says. “But you had to get through it, make your mistakes, and learn from them so you were even better for the next competition.”

Chenard recalls the specific moment in FFA competitions that she learned the responsibilities and rewards that the organization presented.

“It was the first year I’d shown at fair with FFA, and I was very nervous. We were all tired from our early mornings and overheated with weather in the 90s,” she says. “My lamb was giving me a hard time, and I kept comparing myself to all these people who had done this year after year.”

The feeling of anticipation she felt as she was positioned at the end of the judging line-up quickly dissipated as the judge announced her first-place ribbon.

“I had put my heart into it, given it my all and succeeded. I knew it didn’t matter anymore how I thought I was viewed by others—only what I thought of myself and that I gave 110 percent at everything in life.”

FFA continues to support young people in learning lessons in agriculture and life, but seeks the support of FFA alumni and other agriculture educators. You can learn how to take part in National FFA Week and find tips on promoting agriculture in your community from the National FFA Organization.

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