Recently, I was given the opportunity to reflect on my FFA experience. Invited to attend the New York State FFA convention, I was asked to participate with other past officers in the opening ceremonies, which was quite a special experience. That evening, driving north out of Syracuse, New York, I remembered my first trip to the FFA National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.
As you might have guessed, there were four of us in the car making the13-hour trek to the Old Convention Hall in Kansas City. On the way, we passed the old St. Louis Busch Stadium while the World Series was being played. I also seem to remember thundering down the new interstate side-by-side with a Corvette. Obviously, both experiences added to the excitement and memories of the trip.
Now, decades later, each of us put those experiences to work in different places. One of the four is retired from a large utility company, and he and his wife own a “Forest Gump” fishing boat. The other three of us are surprisingly still in the dairy industry, but as Frank Sinatra said, “We did it our way.”
Of the three dairymen, one very successfully milks over 1500 dairy cows and owns a restaurant with his children. His farm is efficient, poised for growth, and is now being transferred to the next generation of owners. Starting from scratch, he experienced some initial road bumps, but soon adapted and adjusted with growth and efficiency as his top priority.
The other of the three operates a small dairy with just under 50 cows. Having bought out his siblings and parents, he owns and operates the third-generation dairy farm. He and his wife have been frugal and made modest investments in the farm. His wife is a celebrated art teacher and both would tell you that their children and grandchildren are the farm’s best crop.
Of course, my participation in the dairy industry is a bit different. Through partial ownership in the creamery and the dairy cows, our team continues to develop and create new markets for milk, ice cream, holiday products, and home delivery. Yes, these are old-fashioned products but with an entrepreneurial twist.
In reflection, as four guys in a car, we all made different choices and showed that there is no one pathway to success. One focused on efficiency and growth, while another relied upon modesty and frugality. Another thrived outside of the industry, while another explores marketplaces and business opportunities. Yet, we all benefited from our time with FFA as well as our dedicated agriculture teacher that stressed life skills. These influences continue to carry us through careers, business and even retirement.
As I look back over my time with FFA, the road to the future is not so different from the past. Just as the four guys in a car, examine your goals and priorities to develop a business model that fits your talents and life beliefs. And finally, always take advantage of an opportunity to learn from those willing to teach because the lessons learned may not just be for a grade, but rather for success in life.