The Virtual 93rd National FFA Convention
for The Fence Post
The National FFA Convention is the Super Bowl of youth agricultural development opportunities. For nearly a century, young agriculturalists have been gathering to compete, discuss, and advocate for the agricultural lifestyle at the National FFA Convention. Dating back to 1928, the Future Farmers of America established the first National FFA Convention in Kansas City, Mo., with a humble attendance of only 33 delegates. Flash forward to the 2019 convention, where an incredible sea of 70,000 FFA members from all across the U.S. flooded the urban streets of Indianapolis, Ind., in their famous blue and gold corduroy jackets. The trip to National Convention is something that many students look forward to all year, and it would honestly take another article to describe all the unique opportunities and events that these students get to experience.
This year’s National Convention was unconventional to put it simply. In the midst of a global pandemic, the national FFA organization was forced to make drastic changes, and for the first time in history, the convention was recorded virtually through the last week of October and first few days of November at the RFD-TV studios in Fort Worth, Texas.
Mavric Leighty a 19-year-old from McClave, Colo., is the Colorado State FFA treasurer this year. Running for a state office has been something that Leighty has dreamed of during his entire high school career. When COVID hit the nation it changed so much about everyday life that he really started to question if this was something he still wanted. Leighty decided that “strong leadership is not desperately needed when times are smooth sailing, leadership is needed when times are tough… leadership is needed during a pandemic.”
Leighty is a strong proponent of when one door gets slammed, another door opens. He had a lot of encouraging things to say about his year as a state officer and the virtual convention. One of the best features of this year’s convention was the vast increase in the number of members that were reached. Instead of only 70,000 members being able to attend the national convention this year, an incredible 700,000 thousand members were able to watch, which is record setting.
Leighty said that the sessions this year were shorter and more entertaining. Unlike most years, he was able to watch all the retiring addresses from the National FFA officers, which was his favorite part of the sessions. While there were no competitive events at this year’s virtual National Convention, including career or leadership development events, they still had proficiency and chapter awards. In addition to that, they still had Star individual awards, which is the highest award an FFA member can receive. Although the virtual experience simply cannot compare to a live, in person experience, Leighty thought the National FFA organization did a great job with this convention.
The Colorado FFA officer team will continue to serve their members to the best of their ability and are working towards virtual experiences for the events that cannot be held due to COVID restrictions.
FFA is more than an extracurricular activity for Collin Ochsner, a 17-year-old junior at Platte Valley High School, and his family.
Ochsner lives on a registered 180 pair Limflex ranch in Kersey, Colo., and said if it weren’t for FFA, their livelihood in production agriculture would not have been possible. FFA has been a practiced organization in Ochsner’s family for generations and his parents both held National FFA officer positions. He said FFA is a part of his roots, just like DNA. He has attended the National Convention every year that he has been in FFA, and he qualified to compete at the national level for creed speaking his sophomore year.
Not surprisingly, he was disappointed to learn that he would not be able to compete at the national level this year, let alone attend the National Convention. However, Ochsner had multiple positive takeaways from the virtual convention. He was thankful that kids who maybe would never have the opportunity to travel halfway across the county to experience the National Convention in person got to have a taste of it through the virtual experience. As a student, he also had the opportunity to participate in virtual prerecorded workshops along with a virtual “blueroom” experience. The blueroom highlighted some of the most innovative, advanced, and modern technologies in agriculture. In addition, Ochsner’s chapter hosted a watch party at the school where they carved pumpkins and enjoyed the opening session of the convention together to make it a bonding experience like it normally would be. He is thankful the FFA organization still put effort into a National Convention and said “FFA isn’t just a gathering of a bunch of country bumpkin kids, it is an outstanding leadership program that can really make a life for you if you allow it.”
Although he enjoyed the virtual event, Ochsner hopes to see a return of the in-person National Convention in 2021, which is his senior year.
Beth Ray is an agriculture education teacher at Arickaree school in northeastern Colorado. The phrases “out in the boonies” and “middle of nowhere” were created for this rural school. But for Ray, who has been an FFA adviser for 14 years, the impacts she has made on her students reach far beyond their small school. In the 14 years that Beth has been teaching, this was only the third time that she has not traveled with her students to participate in the National Convention. Instead, she watched it from her classroom. She was disappointed that she was not able to take her students to an urban city for the convention. The trip is a treat for her students as they don’t have a stoplight in their modest community, let alone skyscrapers and massive shopping centers. While her students get plenty of exposure to the farming and ranching industry at home, it is a chance for them to be able to see how agriculture is utilized in an urban setting.
However, her students said the virtual experience this year was more personal to them than it normally would have been in a crowd of 70,000 students. It was almost like the national officers were talking to them directly through the screen. It gave the students new insight to the fact that national officers started out just like them, and that they also have the potential to become a national officer someday. The part her students missed most about an in person National Convention was the ability to travel and meet new people from all over the nation with similar aspirations. Most importantly, Beth is continuing to provide her students with local opportunities even through COVID because it is crucial to her that we do not give up on the kids. “FFA offers something for everyone, and we need to build kids that can advocate for agriculture no matter what field they decide to enter.”
–Kendrick is a senior at Otis High School in northeastern Colorado. After graduation, she wants to be a livestock judge in college and study political science and journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.