What I learned from 4-H and FFA

In these times of economic reset, there is a shining light for the long-term future of American agriculture. In my seminars, many times lenders, agribusiness professionals and producers invite 4-H and FFA students to attend. These young people often bring a new energy to the entire session. In fact, one of the first questions I ask audiences is how many are former FFA or 4-H students. Usually two-thirds to three-fourths of the room responds positively. Those who were not members commonly tell me it was not because of lack of interest but rather, because they did not have a nearby chapter.

If you have attended any of my speaking engagements, you probably know I enjoy engaging the audience, particularly the younger students. However, as evidenced by my references to characters like Jed Clampett of from the 1960s television show, The Beverly Hillbillies, the disconnect between generations can quickly be observed. Often, I ask the young students to summarize what they learned from my lecture. While some of the more technical information may not be fully understood, other parts are quickly regurgitated. Next, I like to ask the 4-H and FFA invitees what they gained from their involvement in those programs. Interestingly, whether it is one of the high school athletes or the farm kid with a big belt bucket, they all give similar answers.

First, participation in groups like 4-H, FFA or similar programs gives young people a sense of belonging. In today’s world of social media, this element is critical. From years of teaching, I have observed that my most successful students naturally tend to associate with those with similar work ethics and value systems.

Another factor often mentioned in connection with these groups is confidence. No doubt, the formative years of high school can present challenges. However, today’s young people face issues different from those my generation faced and often, ones that can quickly diminish self-esteem. A strong sense of self-confidence is crucial for any young person, and especially one from a small rural area. Regardless of where you may call home, the level of confidence plays a large role in the ability to successfully compete in venues such as sports, grades or other extracurricular activities. I remember competing for FFA and 4-H and not always winning, but feeling a tremendous sense of pride and self-confidence in my work.

Next, young participants frequently mention the benefit of teamwork. The ability to put a team’s needs over one’s own desires builds emotional intelligence and a sense of higher accomplishment. There are good tests to measure aptitude; however, attitude and emotional intelligence are variables that measure success in real life.

One female FFA member shared that participation in the group awakened her passion to be a business entrepreneur. Although not from a farm family, she was mentored by a neighbor who helped her with an enterprise on his farm. Additionally, the neighbor was quick to point out that she and her projects spurred many valuable new ideas for him as well.

Overwhelmingly, my audiences suggest that whether financial or in time, contributions to 4-H and FFA help carry on a legacy of agriculture for future generations and exponentially make a difference in many lives. As we prepare young people for their future, groups like 4-H and FFA help build the skills they will need to lead fulfilled and successful lives. No matter the age or generation, future is always a worthwhile investment. 

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