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“FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.” This FFA mission statement is a testament to our members, chapters, advisors, and supporters everywhere.

National FFA week starts Monday, Feb. 20. It is held annually on the last full week in February. This year it will look, unlike any other FFA week, showcasing virtual “events” rather than Blue and Gold filling the school halls or a pancake breakfast made by members for all the teachers. Our more than 12,000 Indiana FFA members have found ways to still make it special, nonetheless.

The celebrations this week will include virtual visits from Indiana FFA State Officers to FFA chapters across the state. Like every year, this FFA week will also include a proclamation from Indiana legislators who are set to recognize the importance of FFA week and supporting our students. FFA students from across the state will also have the opportunity to learn from agriculture leaders about creating opportunities to tell their story in agriculture and to stand up for agricultural practices on the local, state and federal level with four virtual FFA Advocacy days. Even though this FFA week is certain to look unlike any other, these resilient students have found a way to keep FFA traditions alive.

We cannot honor and celebrate National FFA week without remembering former Indiana FFA Association Director Rob Hays, who passed away last summer. Rob embodied everything FFA is and stands for and is dearly missed in our department and throughout the state. Rob was most passionate about building leaders, something that FFA does so well.

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture and Indiana FFA Association believe leadership development and equipping members with the skills they need to succeed at any stage of life is crucial. Recently we partnered with Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch’s office to develop Indiana’s Rural Road to a Recovery plan, designed to get our state back on track following the pandemic. One priority outlined in our rural road to recovery is to strengthen the pipeline of individuals seeking careers in agriculture. FFA is a great way to get students learning and involved in agriculture-related careers.

Many times I have heard it said that FFA members are some of the hardest working, most eager students on a job or in an internship. I am certain that is due in large part to FFA’s leadership and learning model along with the positive support from advisors and parents.

I want to encourage businesses and post-secondary educational institutions to take a deeper look into FFA members as they are moving into careers or furthering their education. Beyond leadership skills, FFA members learn so much about agriculture, food science, technology and a variety of other disciplines preparing them for success.

I further encourage business and community leaders to ask themselves how they can promote youth education or support their local FFA chapter. Our local FFA chapters and schools need business participation for events and to expand learning opportunities. This is also a great way to establish a connection with the next generation of community leaders, which could lead to job shadowing or an internship.

FFA members exhibit the value of hard work, education and strong leadership instilled in them from the very beginning of their membership and make excellent additions to any workforce or team. At the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, we feel that firsthand because almost half of our 60 employees were FFA members. During FFA week I encourage others to think when was the last time I volunteered with my local FFA chapter? By working together and supporting the local chapters we can take FFA and Indiana’s 12,000 FFA members to the next level.