Monday, May 7, 2012

FFA Alumni Blog has a New Home!

The National FFA Alumni Blog is on the move... Our new location is WordPress... continue to follow us on wordpress and be sure to tell your friends we have a new home! This blog page will be closing at the end of May, 2012.
Thanks for all you do,

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 Wisconsin FFA Alumni Convention

Learning, Fellowship and Fun
The Wisconsin FFA Alumni held their annual convention February 10-12 in Janesville, Wisconsin. Alumni poured in from around the state, braving the blustery winter weather for a weekend of learning, fellowship and fun. A silent and two live auctions generated entertainment and funds to support FFA Alumni initiatives. Each year the WI FFA Alumni Council challenges the state FFA officer team to bring a painted item to auction. This year each officer had a mailbox painted and these one-of-a-kind masterpieces brought big bucks to support FFA members! Workshops were offered on a variety of topics from obtaining tax exempt status to round tables with agricultural educators to learn how FFA Alumni can expand their support of the local teacher and program. Additional activities included the business meeting and recognition of outstanding FFA Alumni members and affiliates for their support of Wisconsin FFA and agricultural education.

“Don’t Be the Missing Piece”
As the theme for the convention, it offered an abundance of food for thought. Jeff Hicken, State FFA Advisor with the Department of Public Instruction addressed the Alumni sharing his appreciation for their support. He mentioned that his colleagues in career and technical education lack the mobilized volunteer body that agricultural education has in Wisconsin. As he shared updates on the educational climate and budget challenges, Mr. Hicken challenged Alumni members to consider the theme. EVERY FFA Alumni member will need to step forward in support of agricultural education and FFA in the coming years within their school districts if they are to continue offering agricultural education. Additional comments throughout the conference point to the increased need for FFA Alumni to advocate on behalf of agricultural education and FFA to their friends, peers, communities and school boards and administrators.

Teacher Engagement
Wisconsin FFA Alumni’s support of agricultural instructors extends to their convention. As encouragement for teachers to accompany their Alumni members to the event, the state FFA Alumni covers the cost of their conference fee and arranges tours of local agricultural related businesses. This year 21 teachers attended the convention to connect with FFA Alumni and garner some educational pieces from the local tours.

Congratulations to Wisconsin FFA Alumni on a successful convention. May you continue to ensure that there is no “missing piece” in helping agricultural education teachers and students succeed.

-Amber Smyer
Program Manager
National FFA Alumni

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Future Of Farming; by Mike Rowe

The last time I was in Indianapolis was the summer of 2003. I remember it pretty well because I was still sulking about The Colts being moved there without my permission and not quite over their inglorious departure from my hometown of Baltimore twenty years earlier. My bitterness melted away however in nearby Plainfield at The National Chimney Sweep Training School, the site of my very first Dirty Job. There, I was instructed in the fine art of “flue maintenance,” and engulfed in flames while attempting to extinguish a raging creosote fire from the top of a rickety demonstration platform. Things went downhill after that and by the time I finally left town I was unrecognizable, concealed under a thick layer of ash and soot, with no plans of ever returning to The Crossroads of America.

Of course, in those days I was unrecognizable on a daily basis. Dirty Jobs would not debut for another six months, and I had no reason to think that anyone would watch when it did. I was wrong about that, and I’ve been wrong about a great many things ever since. A few years ago in fact - proving once again that my plans and my life have little in common – I returned to Indianapolis a lot cleaner, and a lot less anonymous, to deliver the keynote address at The 82nd National Convention of The Future Farmers of America (10/21/09).

For those of you who don’t know, The FFA is an organization of 500,000 teenagers, most of who look like they fell off the front of a Wheaties box. Wholesome, polite, and impossibly well mannered, these are the kids you wish you had, diligently pursuing an adolescence of agricultural acumen. Unfortunately, I arrived at their annual convention with the same level of planning and forethought I brought on my last visit, (i.e., none,) and found myself pacing in the wings twenty minutes before my appearance, trying to arrange my thoughts into an “inspirational and G-Rated message.” Luckily, I happened to glance down at the “FFA Briefing Packet,” recently handed to me by one of the organizers, and found some inspiration on page 4.
“The FFA currently faces an image and perception problem. The previous name of the organization, “Future Farmers of America,” lends itself to stereotyping by the public. The FFA faces a continuing battle to redefine itself against narrow perceptions of “agriculture,” “vocational” and “farmers.” The name “FFA” is now used instead of “Future Farmers of America.”

Incredible. Have we really become so disconnected from our food that farmers no longer wish to be called farmers? Apparently, yes. The FFA has determined that most Americans think of farmers like those actors in Colonial Williamsburg – smiling caricatures from Hee Haw and Green Acres, laboring quaintly in flannel and denim. From what I’ve seen, they’re right. Over and over I hear the same thing from farmers I’ve met on Dirty Jobs. Technical advances in modern agriculture now rival those of Silicon Valley, and today’s farms are more efficient than ever, but no one seems to have gotten the memo. No one seems to care.

The question is “why?” and fifteen minutes later I was on stage, trying to provide a sensible answer to an audience of 55,000 future farmers who preferred to be called something else. I talked about the power of labeling and the dangers of typecasting, from Hollywood to Iowa. I relied upon my own mistakes and misperceptions to make my points, (no shortage there,) and told some stories about the education I’ve received in the course of shooting Dirty Jobs. I don’t know that I was “inspirational” per se, but at the conclusion I was presented with some lovely parting gifts, and left the stage to thunderous applause. In short, I had a blast, and think the kids did as well.

Later that night though, I discovered that there had also been some grown-ups in attendance. Some very serious grown-ups who run the kinds of organizations that actually put the food on our plates. People like Chad Gregory. Chad’s a big shot with The United Egg Producers, and claimed to have enjoyed my comments immensely. He is also convinced that the PR challenges facing groups like The FFA are not only real, but critically relevant to anyone addicted to chewing and swallowing things.

Chad believes we have started down a slippery path that will forever change our nation’s food supply. He talks passionately about the need for people to get educated about the realities of feeding a growing population, and foresees a time when our country imports more food than it ships out. Chad says that without massive awareness and sweeping change, egg production in California will be all but eliminated by 2015, and that thanks to recent ballot initiatives, the process has already begun. He points to the confusion around the “free-range” issue, and the power of groups like The Humane Society, who have taken their agenda to a whole new level. According to Chad, one of their intended goals is now the elimination of all US animal-based agriculture.


Chad wasn’t alone. Walking around Indianapolis I had dozens of similar encounters with a variety of people, all deeply concerned about the future of food production in this country, and frustrated that the relevant issues have been framed by well-funded political organizations with very specific agendas. I listened to stories from agri-scientists about environmental groups fiercely opposed to biotechnical and chemical breakthroughs that would dramatically increase food production worldwide. I saw literature from PETA that likened beef production to “genocide.” And a young farmer named Travis told me about a $1,200 fine levied by OSHA, because the bottom rung on one of his ladders was bent.

As I spoke with various farmers that evening, I realized that I had asked the wrong question. “Why?” is too easy. Obviously, today’s farmers need a PR Campaign because they are beset by an army of angry acronyms, each determined to change modern agriculture in a way that better reflects their particular worldview. The better question is “How.” How is it that 300 million Americans – all addicted to eating – have become disconnected from the people who grow our food? What new priorities have captured our shared concern?
The answer depends entirely upon whom you ask. PETA has one response; The Sierra Club has another. The Humane Society might see it differently than The EPA, and Greenpeace has a different reply than OSHA. Fair enough; it’s a free country. But how did these organizations get so much power? Are their arguments really that compelling? Are their leaders really that charismatic? Are their members really that enlightened? Or has our prosperity created a toehold for ideas that would have simply died on the vine one or two generations ago?

Imagine The HSUS successfully closing down California egg production back in …1960. Or in the same year, imagine OSHA fining a family farm $1,200 for a bent ladder. Imagine telling hungry Americans decades ago that environmental policy would make it impossible to maximize food production. I’m not looking for a fight – really, I’m not. I understand that different things are important to different people, and I don’t begrudge anyone’s right to champion the issues that matter most to them. But what’s more important than eating? What’s more important than feeding a hungry planet, and supporting the people who grow our food?

On Dirty Jobs, I’m no expert, and I’m even less of one here. But I have a theory, and it goes like this – all jobs rely on one of two industries – mining and agriculture. Every tangible thing our society needs is either pulled from the ground, or grown from the ground. Without these fundamental industries there would be no jobs of any kind. There would be no economy. Civilization begins with miners and farmers, and polite society is only possible when skilled workers transform those raw materials into something useful or edible.

I started, because I think we’ve become disconnected from that basic premise. I think we’ve simply forgotten about the underlying industries upon which all else depends, and as a result, created for ourselves a vocational identity crisis. Our collective definition of a “good job” has evolved into something that no longer resembles Work, and that has detached us from a great many things, including our food, and the people who provide it.

Could this be the root cause of the FFA’s “perception problem?” Could our warped view of the modern farmer be just another symptom of our warped relationship with work in general? It’s just a theory, but how else can we explain a country that marginalizes and stereotypes the very people we depend on most? From what I’ve seen, most people like farmers. Most people like food. The problem is Work. We’ve spent decades trying to distance ourselves from traditional notions of Work. And who embodies Work more than The American Farmer?

If Chad’s right, U.S. animal agriculture is under siege, and we’re well on our way to getting our eggs from China and our beef from Brazil. Perhaps this would please The Humane Society. Perhaps PETA would like to see those items removed from menu’s altogether, and that’s fine. People often disagree about important matters, but without context, the bigger issue gets lost. This is our food supply we’re talking about – not the size of a chicken’s cage, or the resistance to chemically enhanced soil. We already rely on the world for our energy. Do we really want to rely on them for our food as well?

I auditioned the other day for the voiceover on a TV commercial about the American Farmer. (Yeah, I still audition.) I don’t recall the whole thing, but it started out like this – “Every year we demand more and more from our farmers. More food from less land. More food from less energy. More food from less labor. And every year our farmers deliver.”

I believe that to be a true statement. I also believe that as a country, we haven’t made it easy for them. Two percent of our population provides the rest of us with all the food we need, and we behave as though it’s our birthright. Like nothing we do can threaten the abundance. It seems to me that as a country, we could do a better job of supporting the people who feed us. And we could start by acknowledging the incredible challenges facing The American Farmer.

But I digress.

All I really wanted to do was congratulate The FFA for their good work, and thank them for inviting me back to Indianapolis. I spend a lot of time these days talking about the importance of getting dirty – mostly with white-collar workers who don’t really know what I’m getting at, which is fine. Preaching to the choir doesn’t do much but bore the choir, so I rarely take the opportunity to talk to groups who already “get it.”
However, there is something to be said for occasionally finding yourself in the company of like-minded people. And every so often, if you can get your thoughts organized in time, it’s fun to address the rafters and deliver a message that gets 50,000 enthusiastic future farmers to stand up and holler back with unbridled gusto.

Such were my last three days in Indianapolis. Good for the spirit, good for the ego, and far superior to crawling down a flaming chimney.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

- Mike

Mike Rowe is passionate and leading by example, we need to be proud to be loud about sustaining FFA, Ag Education and agriculture. We are the grass-roots advocacy effort and we can make a big difference. Thank you FFA Alumni for all you do!

Friday, January 27, 2012

President Bob Barton's State of the FFA Alumni

Fellow FFA Alumni,

As President I felt it necessary to provide you an update on the activities at a national level. As most of you know November 14, 2011 Frank Saldana moved within the organization to a Local Program Support (LPS) position covering the South East. Since then Tony Small, Partner Services Division Director has been the interim Director. I have been in steady contact with Tony and the National FFA Alumni staff to ensure the voice of the FFA Alumni membership is present during the audit of current association programs. Many of you ask, what is the timeline to hire a new Executive Director? Believe me I can’t wait! However, the end of November your executive committee asked FFA to hold off on the solicitation to allow further review of the job description. Today, I am pleased to announce, that January 25th we began interviews.

During the last 3 months it has become apparent that several of our current programs have not been assessed or updated since 1971. I am not saying that it is all bad; however to run like a well-oiled machine you must have regular tune-ups, it gave us the opportunity to revisit several things and ask questions. For instance with our two main goals.
1. To have an active fully engaged FFA Alumni affiliate associated with every FFA chapter, and
2. To be the leaders in advocacy for agricultural education.
Is our Vision Statement still current? Also, looking at operation budgets and cost of doing business, should we look at rebates and newsletter expense? Are our Awards relevant? Should National FFA Alumni be providing Scholarships? Or is it our role to have in place programs and materials to help each of you provide for and support your Local and State programs? And how do we answer the question: “Why do I pay National Dues?” I would appreciate your feedback and thoughts on these!

Recently, your staff and council spent three long days working on critical items. We had the opportunity to learn and grow through presentations, brainstorming sessions, updates and reports; we created committees with attainable goals, objectives and timelines; had productive conversations and left exhausted! I feel great pride in the work the council and staff did and believe each FFA Alumni member has a voice and is being represented by people at the table. After our meeting I left feeling confident we will make great strides toward achieving our long range goals, please join me in thanking your National FFA Alumni Council for their service.

Also, we were given an opportunity to have a better understanding of our Agricultural Career Network (AgCN) FFA Alumni portals, our new membership/roster system. We are excited about the potential these will bring but unfortunately they will be delayed until summer 2012. I know you are anxious to move to an electronic system but I’m so nostalgic for our excel rosters that we can’t let them go this year. So if you would join me one last time in filling out and sending in those wonderful excel rosters we can celebrate both their retirement and mine at National FFA Alumni convention this October in Indianapolis, Indiana.

I hope to see all of you in Bozeman Montana for our FFA Alumni Development Conference, July 11-14, 2012. Staff is working on action packed workshops and plenty of sightseeing trips, including a day trip to Yellow Stone National Park. My hope is to have several things in place to talk about, gaining thoughts and insight from each and every one of you in attendance.

In closing, I would like to thank each of you for what you do as a volunteer for this wonderful organization daily! If you are raising money for your local chapter, providing assistance to your local instructor, mentoring students, or fighting to save a program within your school district, your passion and dedication to Agricultural Education and FFA is apparent. I strive every day to strengthen every FFA Alumni affiliate in every community along with having programs in place allowing community members, businesses, administrators and anyone with a voice to understand the importance of our great organization… so we can be a united force for Agricultural Education and FFA!

Bob Barton
National FFA Alumni President

Thursday, January 26, 2012

National FFA Alumni Council Re-Energizing Meeting

After a long and jam-packed weekend of hard nosed work with the National FFA Alumni Council, Andrea Stevenson of Christmas Florida, reflects on how she re-energizes her passion for FFA every time she can.

"I realize I talk alot bout the FFA and this weekend is just one of the reasons why. Tomorrow I am going to Dade City to stay with some friends that I met when I was an FFA member 20 years ago and in addition I get to see another friend that I met in 7th grade at Forestry Camp. After all these years we still stay in touch. It's one of the many reasons why I am so passionate about FFA!"

Andrea Stevenson
National FFA Alumni Council
Member-at-Large Representative

Your National FFA Alumni Council worked hard from dusk-till-dawn January 19-21. Their work will propel the National FFA Alumni Association in a direction that will help achieve the two long range goals:
1. Every FFA chapter has an active and engaged FFA Alumni affiliate
2. Become the leaders in advocacy for agricultural education
And create an environment where the national association can impact more students and recruit more FFA Alumni members.
The energy was high and at times so was the tension... but this is what happens when you have passionate people working passionately to save, strengthen and sustain FFA and agriculture education.
Thank you to the 2012 National FFA Alumni Council and thank you to all whom they represent, we the staff appreciate all you do and thank you for re-energizing our passion!
Lucy Whitehead
National FFA Alumni

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Idaho FFA Alumni is Engaged!

Watch out! The Idaho FFA Alumni are fired up and readying themselves to take on the world. They just wrapped up an intense weekend of strategizing, planning and goal setting to revitalize their state Alumni Association and to grow the number of FFA supporters in the great state of Idaho.

Four Oregon FFA Alumni Council members traveled to snowy McCall, Idaho to join the Idahoans for the weekend. Armed with great food, plenty of coffee, M&M’s, white board and markers, they shared their experiences and helped facilitate Idaho’s development of a vision statement, mission and short and long-term goals. And it was the help of the National FFA Alumni’s State-to-State Mentorship Grant that made this weekend of planning possible. It was an amazing experience and I’m thankful I was allowed the opportunity to lend a hand.

Chuck Radloff, Idaho Alumni Council President said in an email to all that participated “I think we made some tremendous strides forward in developing a sustainable and stable state FFA Alumni Association for Idaho. The sharing of your experiences and insights will be priceless to us as we grow and expand our services.”

Well said Chuck! And the feeling is mutual. The passion, enthusiasm and dedication of all that participated were infectious and everyone that participated went away with something. Whether it was how to organize, getting new ideas for fundraising, improving relationships with our FFA partners or renewing our commitment to the FFA Alumni, FFA and agriculture – everyone grew from being a part of this event.

Thank you National FFA Alumni for the State-to-State Mentorship Grant and for providing the seed to make this opportunity to engage blossom!

Shauna McReynolds
Western Region Representative
National FFA Alumni Council

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oregon FFA Alumni Council Cooks Up Support for Ag Advisors

There are hundreds of ways to show people you care about them and appreciate what they do. And like so many FFA Alumni, we do a lot of cooking to show how much we care. This time it was the Oregon FFA Alumni Council cooking for our ag teachers!

Strengthening ties and supporting ag advisors is a key component of the Oregon FFA Alumni’s mission:
“Ensure the future of agricultural, career and technical education through the support of students and advisors.”

This priority was affirmed when the Oregon Alumni Council members provided the main dinner for almost 100 Oregon ag advisors at their annual Summer Conference.

Oregon’s Council members have consciously put time and energy into maintaining a strong working relationship with the ag teachers in our great state. And it has paid off tremendously. The relationships and connections we are building are strong. Those ag programs that do not enjoy the benefits of having an Alumni are seeing first-hand how the programs with strong Alumni relationships are thriving. As they say “a picture (or real-life example) is worth a 1,000 words!”

For fun, the Council members challenged themselves to a pork rib cook-off. The judges – all the ag teachers – voted for the best ribs, not knowing who cooked what! It was close but, President-Elect Rod Cockeram’s secret sauce beat out President Neal Lucht’s private recipe. We had a little extra fun, sneaking in an entry of cold turkey dogs on behalf of Past President Mr. Bob Barton adding plenty of laughter to the evening.

It is a joy to spend time with the hardworking ag teachers and do what we can to ease their burden.
Oregon FFA Alumni Coucil!