By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Idaho's next leaders in agriculture are meeting at this year's state conference in Twin Falls this week, and they're fired up, celebrating the common thread that unites them -- pride in agriculture's contributions to the state and the world.
State FFA officers, who will hang up their blue jackets on Saturday after a year's service and hand the reins over to the next team of officers, say it's been an amazing year and their experience in FFA has forever sealed their advocacy for agriculture.
After their year of training, studying, traveling and networking, state officers leave ready to go out into the world as strong advocates of the ag industry, said Bridget Barrus, state FFA coordinator.
The world is becoming increasingly urbanized and disconnected from production agriculture, and FFA officers and members are entrusted with the duty to tell agriculture's story, said state FFA President Tanner Beymer of Kimberly.
"It's our job, everyday, to tell the story of Idaho agriculture," he said.
Idaho has about 4,000 FFA members, but the organization's influence reaches much farther than Idaho. FFA has more than 557,000 members nationwide, bringing together students from all backgrounds to share their passion for agriculture.
"No matter your background or wherever you come from, we all love agriculture," said state FFA Treasurer Lauren Gleed of Preston.
FFA gives members the skills, training and confidence to pursue their own dreams and advocate for agriculture, the officers said.
It also opens their eyes to the opportunities in agriculture, and it's comforting to find out the industry has a place for them, said state FFA Sentinel Ellie Dalton of Dietrich.
She grew up on a farm and ranch and knew she wanted to pursue a career in agriculture, but she didn't know why. FFA has instilled in her that agriculture is a noble pursuit, filled with good people with high values helping everyone in the world and most importantly, their families, she said.
Being a state leader empowers officers, said FFA Vice President Ayla Neumeyer of Bonner's Ferry.
"You're growing and working on different skills. It's been such an important part of our high school experience, you want to give back to the 4,000 members," she said.
The FFA experience forces members to go out of their comfort zone to tell ag's story, she said.
Several chapters in urban areas hold ag expos to bring in grade school students, who overwhelmingly don't know where their food comes from. The best questions at those events are from their teachers and parents. So FFA members are educating more than one generation, said State Secretary Lauren Clark of Meridian.
"I gained confidence in myself and ability as a state officer. If we can do it, they can too," she said of all FFA members.
High school ag education and FFA provide the training pieces for student leaders to go out and be ambassadors for agriculture, said state Reporter Michelle Ball of Kuna.
All the officers say their FFA and ag advisors inspired them, brought out the best in them and encouraged them to get out of their comfort zones to become leaders.
In that respect, FFA has taught Gleed to take risks, and that's allowed her to grow and improve, she said.
"Not only am I going to do my best, I'm going to do better than my best," she said.
Dalton summed up what all the FFA officers said they learned from their year as state leaders.
"Don't be afraid, go for it, learn to take risks, dream big and work hard," she said.