Victoria Ference of the Ord FFA chapter and Bailey Robinson, York FFA, both Nebraska state FFA vice presidents, stopped by the Nebraska Farmer Hour on the Hospitality Tent stage at Husker Harvest Days to talk about the leadership opportunities in FFA.
Both Ference and Robinson discussed how FFA has helped them to grow in their own career paths and has allowed them to pursue their own specific areas of interest, developing leadership skills that will last a lifetime.
That’s what FFA does. Along with Ference and Robinson, Nebraska Farmer caught up with Jaya Nelson, Rock County FFA, and Gracie Schneider, Cozad FFA, both serving as state vice presidents, at the Titan Tire booth at HHD on Wednesday, Sept. 15, where they were greeting FFA members and farmers attending the show.
It was a good day to be at the show, as HHD is known as the second-largest gathering of FFA members in the state, behind only the state convention in April, because of the number of chapters that annually bring members to HHD.
Nelson used her high school FFA experience as a springboard to start her own gelato business, called On the Go Gelato, with three other classmates. “We made and sold gelato out of our school’s kitchen,” Nelson explained. Their company sold gelato at sale barns, fairs and festivals, and even pitched their enterprise to the producers of the popular entrepreneurial TV show, Shark Tank.
For Nelson, FFA not only helped her develop business skills, but also carried her through a tough time in her life. Her parents divorced when she was a freshman. “I didn’t have a positive place to put that energy,” she said.
During that time, she found FFA and got to know her FFA advisor at school. “This experience as a state officer has given me the opportunity to able to take that negative energy and turn it into something positive” through FFA, as a way to give back to an organization that helped her through those tough times.
As a state officer, the University of Nebraska ag education major has enjoyed connecting with other members at events such as the Chapter Officer Leadership Training (COLT) conference or the Experiencing Discovery, Growth and Excellence (EDGE) conference for junior high FFA members.
“Being able to teach curriculum that shows how important a positive mindset is has really allowed me to give back from my experiences,” Nelson said.
From a young chapter
Schneider worked with her family farm and ranch operation at home for her Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) in high school. “It was fun to work with my family and still make money,” she said. “I received so much support from my community in Cozad during the process” of applying to be a state FFA officer.
“Our chapter in Cozad is only 4 years old,” she explained. “I had the opportunity to help build our chapter, and as I was getting done with high school, I realized how much FFA had done for me so far. I just wanted to work so hard to make my hometown proud.”
Schneider, who is an animal science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been exhibiting livestock since she was 8 years old. “My favorite experience as a state officer so far has been helping with the behind-the-scenes activities at Nebraska State Fair,” she said. “It was cool to see the work behind the scenes, to interact with members and see how their hard work pays off.”
Schneider had attended HHD before and enjoyed seeing her fellow members from Cozad FFA at the show this year, as well as connecting with members she has worked with over the past several months in office.
For Nelson, it was her first time to attend HHD, and she said she was surprised at how the show site just pops up in the middle of the fields outside Grand Island as you drive to the site.
FFA builds leaders
Nelson said that as she talks with young students about FFA, she brings up the leadership opportunities and the focus FFA has on personal development. “FFA teaches you about careers in agriculture, but it is much more than that,” she said.
“Through FFA, I’ve grown so much as an individual, because of so many opportunities and lessons you learn even outside of your competitions,” Schneider said. “You learn leadership skills, hard work and teamwork, and there are so many cool things to be a part of, whether you are going into agriculture or not.”
Learn more about Nebraska FFA online at education.ne.gov.