4 Ways Ag's Corny Youth Organization Impacted Your Life
If you’re an FFA member or an alumnus, you know corn is a symbol for unity - that it can grow in all 50 states. Since learning this, I realized the agriculture community is like corn in a lot of ways.
My agriculture history starts in 2012 as a high school freshman with no clue about agriculture when my mom forced me to join an agriculture class so I could learn about chickens so she could have fresh eggs. Or, at least this is where I thought my story started.
Later, I learned agriculture is in my blood. My grandfather was an insurance adjuster for farmers who lost their farms from weather or other factors. My great-grandfather was an avid gardener who cross pollinated and made beautiful orchids in his greenhouse. He also grafted trees to make pluots (apricot/plum).
While I didn’t grow up on a farm or a ranch, or have any experience with conventional agriculture as a child, agriculture, and FFA, have become a huge part of my life. My first taste of the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, was as a first-year agriculture student. I had an FFA-crazed, nerd advisor, and boy was I in for a treat.
I told my mom I would listen, and join the corny ag class, but when my advisor mentioned FFA I told him there was no way I would join that weird club, nobody wears corduroy anymore.
After I was introduced to my first taste of competition, I was hooked on this organization and all the opportunities that went along with it. Soon, I found out I was wrong about the corduroy, about 600,000 members wear it across the United States. Looking back, it’s clear I had no idea just how much the blue jacket was going to impact my life.
During my time as an agriculture student, I was fortunate to have two advisors who went above and beyond in helping make my journey worthwhile. There were times my personal life struggled, and these were the people who I turned to in times of need. During my sophomore year I really wanted to run for chapter office, but I felt overwhelmed so I told my advisor I wasn’t going to run. She encouraged me to run, and was understanding that it wasn’t something I could handle at that time.
If we’re being honest, I remember crying because I didn’t believe I belonged because I wasn’t like the kids who grew up on a farm, or a ranch, and my parents didn’t own a feed store. Heck, we didn’t even have a garden.
I was constantly reminded it didn’t matter I wasn’t a show kid or a rodeo girl. What mattered is that I’m passionate and a hard worker. The thoughts of “not fitting in” was all in my head, because I have never felt like I belonged more than when I am in a sea of blue jackets. Sure, that may sound cliché, but it’s true.
My junior year, when I ran for chapter office, my advisor asked why the president position was my last choice. I believed I lacked experience and wanted to start small and work my way up. At the end-of-year banquet they announced the chapter officer team from sentinel to president and tears fell from my eyes as they announced the Vice-President because wasn’t me.
I was certain I was going home without a coveted position, because, honestly, there’s no way I was president.
Then it happened.
They announced my name. Of all the names they could have called - they called mine. Annily Hawks: Florence FFA Chapter President. For the sake of full transparency, I am not saying this to toot my own horn. To me this was an example of my advisor believing in me even when I did not believe in myself. Although each of my advisors were completely different, they were each a vital factor in how far I made it not only as an FFA member, but also as an individual.
The height of a corn stalk depends on the variety of the corn and the environment in which a corn plant is grown, and as the stalk grows, leaves emerge.
When my leaves emerged they came in the form of leadership, personal growth and career success. AKA: the goals and mission of the FFA organization.
I learned to branch out and take in information about the agriculture industry that would lead to finding my passion: teaching others. I find myself talking about agriculture almost everywhere I go. Just ask my younger brother how mad he was when I constantly corrected him. To be fair, he thought every meat that ended up on his plate was called “chicken” even when my mom said we were having pork roast for dinner.
The skills and talents I gained through opportunities in the agriculture industry helped me beyond the classroom. Competing in the livestock evaluation competition helped me learn to speak to strangers. Memorizing opening ceremonies and opening addresses taught me the value of time management. Working on the land lab and helping my friends ration their feeds taught me the value of hard work. Lastly, making friends and meeting strangers taught me how important it is to network. I would even go as far as to say my leaves are still emerging, and I am still learning everyday.
Even when you start with what seems like a small about of popcorn kernels, you always end up with a family-sized portion. My experience with the people I met through FFA is similar.
I am sure you can tell my journey did not happen solo. I met many people along the way. In fact, I met my best friend in FFA. By my senior year, 90 percent of my friends were Arizona FFA members. Just when I thought my FFA journey might be over, I chose to run for a state office. In that role not only did I meet another one of my best friends who doubled as my teammates, but I was also blessed to travel across the state and meet more people I would soon call friends.
During this year of state office, I gained an amazing support system ranging from Farm Bureau members to retired agriculture teachers and from farmers and ranchers to past state officers. Before I knew it, I was a part of a widespread community I couldn’t even dream of being a part of a few years ago.
That’s the thing about the agriculture community, no one cares about your background, or if you don’t live on a farm or a ranch. The people I met see that I have a passion for agriculture and welcomed me with open arms.
This community made me feel like I was a part of something. Little did they know, it would end up meaning the world to me.
I believe the agriculture community is corny, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Just like most corn, I am genetically modified. Through the agriculture industry, I was able to take traits from other role models who continuously inspire me each and every day. FFA and agriculture was in my genes, it runs through my blood, but it skipped a few generations. I am so thankful I rediscovered it, and I plan on keeping the agriculture industry, community and FFA in my genes for the next few generations. Jeans and boots? OR Boots and Genes? You choose, but to me it’s all the same.