With the world in the throes of so much negativity, it can be difficult to look towards the future when the present itself is so worrisome. Thankfully for agriculture, leadership organizations like the FFA have bolstered confidence for the industry’s future as young people involved in the organization gain poise, professionalism and an appreciation for our nation’s food source.
For the Montana State FFA Association, March was a hard month. Normally, the organization and the young leaders slated as the group’s state officers are busy planning their yearly state conventions, a traditional gathering of Montana FFA members that has been held for nearly 90 years. The event has continued uninterrupted for all those years, with one exception. In 1945, the Montana FFA State Convention was cancelled due to World War II.
For 2020, the Montana FFA was once again faced with postponing their annual convention. This time it wasn’t a war, but a virus instead. It is times like this, as disappointment ripples through an organization, when leadership becomes a beacon of hope. The 2019-20 Montana FFA state officer team has exemplified these leadership skills as they reflect on their year of service and realize the journey they experienced has been far more impactful than the destination of the Montana FFA State Convention.
“This has been one of the best years I can remember. Getting to go everywhere I have gone and meeting with members has been absolutely amazing,” said Andrew Ferrat, Montana FFA state parliamentarian.
Ferrat’s teammates echoed similar responses during phone interviews conducted the second to last week of March, right when the Montana FFA State Convention should have been happening.
“I know at the beginning they told us there was going to be a lot of unexpected challenges. Obviously, this stuff wasn’t in mind when they said it, but I think there is a lot of value in that lesson,” said Emily Evans, Montana FFA state secretary.
This year’s state officer team consists of eight highly qualified leaders from all across Montana. Some come from agriculture backgrounds and others don’t. Some knew the minute they zipped up the blue corduroy jacket for the first time that one day they would be a state officer, while others never realized that dream until mere months before last year’s state convention.
“I really decided I was going to run for a state office when I was in seventh grade. I was at a 4-H training and they asked us what some of our goals in life are and I was like, ‘Well, I want to be a state officer,’” expressed Andee Baker, Montana FFA state treasurer.
In comparison, it took Montana FFA state first vice president Lucas Oelkers a little bit longer to realize he wanted to be a state officer himself.
“I didn’t have any intentions of running for a state office until my senior year of high school actually. I had a few members and even advisors that came up to me and told me I should run for a state office and I didn’t even think that was on my radar,” he said.
After being elected to office in March of 2019, the Montana FFA state officer team hit the ground running. As their year of service progressed, each of the officers came to realize in their own way just how selfless a true leader must be, a lesson that has become all too important at a time like this.
It is possible that no one is as heartbroken about the cancelation of the 2020 Montana FFA State Convention as the current state officers. Convention is a time a closure and reflection, a climactic end to a life changing year. Regardless, each member of the team has managed to keep this all in perspective.
“The state convention is a showcase, and having that stripped away is unfortunate, but it is also an opportunity to show resilience,” stated Isaac Sponheim, Montana FFA state second vice president.
“We are missing a part of the experience, but we aren’t missing out,” added Kyla Andres, Montana FFA state sentinel.
Despite the setback, Caroline Roeder, this year’s state FFA president, points out that FFA members have an opportunity to make a lasting impression as a face for agriculture during this time. With rumors about America’s food supply circulating, Roeder says it is an obligation of those involved in FFA to reach out and advocate for the industry.
“The general population is very afraid right now. Most people reach for what they believe to be hard facts to address that fear. I encourage FFA members and alumni to provide those facts so people can learn what the agriculture industry is really about,” she astutely stated.
The test of a true leader often comes during times of uncertainty and the Montana FFA state officers have stepped up to the plate. Over the year they have melded together as a team and respect each other for their ability to rise above the fray.
“I have to applaud my team. They have taken on this challenge with a sense of grace and entire adaptability,” stated Anna Slivka, Montana FFA state reporter.
The 2019-20 Montana FFA state officer team is showing their constituents that just like in 1945, the cancelation of state convention does not lessen the experience FFA offers its members, state officers and supporters. Agriculture and its future will prevail and the entire industry can rest assured it is in good hands.