BY EMMA HOPKINS-O’BRIEN
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This year marked the 92nd annual National FFA Convention, held again at the Indiana Convention Center and surrounding areas in Indianapolis. But there was more to celebrate than the stampede of blue jackets flowing throughout the city; this year also marks the 50th year that FFA has included young women among the ranks of the organization.
Samantha Ludlam, a student teacher from the Coopersville, Mich., FFA chapter attended the convention for the first time this year in her student teacher role, making it the first time in four years she was able to experience the fun on a chapter level. According to Ludlam, there’s just something special about so many members converging in the same city at the same time.
“There is nothing more special than being surrounded by a sea of blue jackets,” Ludlam said. “National Convention is a time for celebration and reflection. It's a great feeling to be reminded that you are not alone and that this organization is so much bigger than just yourself or your chapter.”
The convention was certainly a place of integration for members who had never been before. It was the first time at convention for Abby Ellerbrock who wants to return next year.
“You can get a lot of good experience, especially the first time and you meet a lot of new friends here,” Ellerbrock said. “There’s just so much here, you can learn anything, from business to science to agriculture, it’s just amazing how all these things affect your world.”
Ellerbrock and her friend Sydney Schroder are both from Leipsic, Ohio. Schroder said going on a tour of a dairy farm and learning about milk production in the U.S. was one of the highlights of convention for her, as well as making new friends. In general sessions at the convention, students are seated in random spots to encourage mingling with members from other states. Jillian Ordway from the Woodford, Ky., FFA chapter said meeting people from across the country was a highlight for her.
“You get to see tons of different people from everywhere,” Ordway said. “It’s really cool. In the booklets that we get when we get here, there’s people from everywhere, all 50 states. There’s people you can see that are in there from the organization from around the world, like Puerto Rico. We’ve met people from Alaska, Minnesota, New York, Connecticut, everywhere. “
Ludlam said she identified inclusion as a theme from this year’s convention.
“This year one of the sessions opening ceremonies was done in Spanish,” she said. “There was a lot of inclusive language, and recognition was given throughout the convention as well. This was the 50th Anniversary of Women in the FFA as well, which was super cool.”
Everything was not strictly business at the convention, despite the workshops on life skills, career development, leadership and exhibits on science and agriculture. In the expo room at the convention center, one could find singing, dancing and gaming. A massive cornhole tournament was popular, as well as “musical wood shavings” put on at the Tractor Supply booth where students played a version of musical chairs, except with sacks of wood shavings typically used to bed livestock at shows. A group of members from the Academy for Sciences and Ag (AFSA) in Minnesota spent a good amount of time at a Farm Bureau booth playing a giant version of Jenga. But what does Jenga have to do with FFA? According to Kirin Killian, Genesis Mora and Loretta Herbers, more than you’d think.
“Life is hard,” Herbers said. “We’re building teamwork, building to make new things. There’s always struggles in life but it’s worth it. You have to have patience. These are the kinds of lifelong skills you learn in FFA.”
Mora, who did not grow up with an ag background but has a love of nature said students coming to convention for their first time need to put themselves out there and meet new people.
“Don’t be scared to talk to them,” Mora said. “You meet a lot of people on Snapchat or other social media too, from the area, and it’s fun because I’ve met a lot of members on social media and I got to meet them in person here.”
Killian echoed other members when she said the convention promotes diversity.
“I think it’s neat to see everyone in FFA is different, there’s not one specific type of kid,” Killian said, who shows beef cattle as a hobby. “There’s a whole bunch of different people to meet. Our FFA chapter is in the city, and a lot of the kids didn’t know anything about agriculture or farming before they were in FFA.”
Herbers, who works at a greenhouse but has no other ag background added that at the convention, like in FFA in general, students can learn about anything related to how the world works, and to her, that is what makes FFA so special.
“It’s not just farming, you can learn about technology, natural resources, there’s a wide variety,” she said. “And you’re learning how to live. There are all kinds of life skills you can take away from it. You don’t just learn about regular school subjects, you learn about planning your life, or what all it takes to grow a bean—everything that goes into that, because there is a lot.”