FFA Alumni advocates for agriculture

Throughout the year, the National FFA Alumni Association has urged and encouraged engagement to all FFA Alumni affiliates. Now more than ever it is evident in the need for advocacy. During the FFA Alumni Development Conference, president Bob Barton talked about the continuing need for advocacy for agriculture and agricultural education.

“It’s up to us to be advocates – not just for agricultural education but for agricultural as a whole,” he said. “As FFA Alumni, we stem from many different walks of life and if we share our message with others in our circle, we can continue to grow our advocacy message.”

Barton said FFA Alumni needs to grow to carry this message. Growth is now part of Alumni’s strategic plan – for every active FFA chapter to have an active FFA Alumni affiliate. Nearly 80,000 FFA members graduate from high school every year, but the FFA Alumni membership stands at 53,000.

There are opportunities to increase membership, Barton said.

Throughout the conference, attendees learned new ideas on how to advocate for agricultural education and continue to grow affiliates.

Ron Lynch from Illinois shared how his state was able to increase FFA Alumni affiliates by 11 percent in the past two years. He said 16 affiliates were added in 2011 and another 12 have joined ranks already this year. In addition to working with teachers, Illinois has worked with groups and companies to start non-traditional FFA Alumni affiliates.

“Our goal is to have one FFA Alumni member for every FFA member,” Lynch said. “We focus on the teacher and ask them what they need from us, and how we can help.

“If someone wants to try something new, let them,” Lynch said. “It’s important that we make sure we get the face of FFA Alumni out there.”

Alycia McLamb, who is an intern for the North Carolina State FFA Association, said her state is also growing affiliates.

“In 2010, we were fortunate enough to be part of the barn restoration through Campbell’s Soup,” she said. “The barn had the Campbell’s logo on it and also a big FFA Alumni logo, which garnered attention to us.”

In addition to the press generated, North Carolina’s FFA Alumni contingent made sure it had a presence at the state FFA convention. The group conducted workshops, supported keynote speakers and presented retiring state officers with lifetime FFA Alumni membership.

“We want to make sure we engage our former members,” McLamb said. “We make sure our program of activities is purposeful and share our message with today’s FFA members.” Regina Oldendorf and Kathy Breunig from the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association think it’s important to make sure FFA Alumni advocacy messages are written in a language that will be impactful to administrators and community.

“We need FFA Alumni to be proactive and educate how agriculture affects the public,” Breunig said. One important aspect that Wisconsin FFA Alumni emphasized was making sure to work with people of influence in the community who can advocate for the local FFA program and agricultural education. The next piece is to make sure there is relevant information on the FFA program, the agricultural education program and how both affect students.

“There is a story behind every FFA chapter that needs to be told,” Oldendorf said. “FFA Alumni groups need to make sure they’re telling that story.”

Facts are also important. Oldendorf urges FFA Alumni groups to publish annual reports about their FFA chapters, filled with facts and figures about how agriculture is affecting their community and sharing highlights of students’ premier leadership, personal growth and career success. She said annual reports should also include FFA enrollment numbers and messaging to administrators that agricultural education is teaching science – life sciences.

Oldendorf and Breunig also shared information that they make sure to have on hand when sharing stories about FFA – including information on what occurs through agricultural educations experiential learning. Information on individuals programs that highlight classroom instruction, supervised agricultural experiences and FFA are all shared with administrators and the general public.

“We are advocates for students and teachers,” Oldendorf said. “We need to make sure their stories are heard and people everywhere understand the impact and the importance of agricultural education and FFA.”