Reflections From the National FFA Convention
by SARAH TRUE, Polk County Farm Bureau
Last month, the 96th National FFA Convention and Expo was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. As an FFA member, I was privileged enough to attend and compete at the National FFA convention for multiple years in a row. This year, I had the pleasure to attend this convention for the first time as an alumnus. Although Indianapolis and FFA were not new to me, this year’s convention really stood out when compared to my previous visits. From walking across the stage as an award recipient to traveling the state to learn more about Indiana’s agriculture, the 96th National FFA Convention and Expo did not disappoint.
The National FFA Organization describes this convention as a way for the next generation of agriculturalists to grow as leaders by stating, “No matter where you are in FFA, you’ll find inspiration and direction to become a leader and influencer, ready to make an impact. During this event, find out who you are, who you want to become and how you can change how the world grows” (2023). As an attendee, I couldn’t agree more with the way the convention is portrayed in this quote.
As I walked through the convention halls, I couldn’t help but read the back of each FFA jacket being worn by FFA members from all over the country. If you aren’t familiar with the historical FFA jacket, it is a National Blue corduroy jacket that has an FFA emblem and the name of the FFA Chapter and state that the student is representing. By reading the back of each FFA jacket I realized just how many students of all ages this convention impacted from states across the country. There were even some students who were trying to get a signature or photo with an FFA member from every state, which I thought was a great way to network and meet more people at the convention.
On the Friday of the convention, as an alumnus I was invited to attend the Alumni and Supporters Reception. This was a unique opportunity that allowed me to meet other alumni members and the sponsors of the National FFA Convention. On this day, I was also able to visit the expo hall and talk to countless agriculture companies and colleges. As a college graduate with an agricultural career that walked through the same expo hall as a student, I know firsthand the importance of these expo booths. One conversation at an expo booth could change the future of agriculture for the better through the impact it has on a single student. The National FFA Organization realizes the importance of networking and personal growth in the future generations of agriculturalists, which is apparent through the amount of time and effort they put into these experiences at convention.
At the National FFA Convention there are students competing for and receiving awards that they have worked toward for months or even years. In my case, I was there to receive my American FFA Degree. This degree is bestowed upon fewer than 1 percent of FFA Members, in recognition of their years of academic and professional excellence. These recipients continuously demonstrate their desire to develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Saturday morning, I walked across the National FFA Stage to receive this honorary award. An award that I had dreamed of receiving ever since I took my first agriculture course in sixth grade. As they announced my name and handed me my certificate, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The same emotion that any FFA member should feel as they walk across that stage.
As a part of the National FFA Convention, surrounding farms in Indiana offer tours to FFA members. This allows the students to learn more about agriculture in a hands-on setting. During my time there, I toured Hunter’s Honey Farm and Fair Oaks Farms. These tours allowed me to learn more about the commodities that are offered in Indiana and how they are produced.
My first stop was Hunter’s Honey Farm, where I got to learn about honey bees and the products that can be found inside a beehive. I even got to taste test all their honey flavors and take home a bottle of my own.
My second farm tour was at Fair Oaks Farms. This farm focuses on two different sectors of agriculture production: swine and dairy cattle. This farm was designed to educate the public about these two sectors of the agriculture industry. Before starting my tours, I got to visit both the swine and dairy educational buildings that had hands-on activities. My favorite activity was a mock milking station where I got to “practice” my milking skills before going on the farm tour to see how cows are milked on a dairy operation. The tour includes a ride through the barn and an inside look at two different types of operating milking systems. The two milking systems are a rotary and a guided traffic barn. There is also a birthing barn where I was able to watch a cow give birth. After finishing the Dairy Tour, I headed on my tour of the swine operation. This tour takes you to a bio secure barn where I was able to view pigs and piglets of all ages and sizes.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Indiana for the 2023 National FFA Convention and Expo. I encourage any FFA student given the opportunity to attend this convention in the future to go and make the most of their trip!