Even a spell of chilly Indianapolis rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the tens of thousands of FFA members who descended on the Indiana Convention Center for the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo this week. It marked the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic that the convention was held in-person.
“It’s overwhelming at first, with so many thousands of people in one place,” said Mariah Luebke, treasurer with Fort Atkinson FFA, who was sitting with fellow first-time attendees Alyx Hoefler and Zoey Zebell. “But there are a lot of nice people here.”
Official numbers have not yet been released, but the convention has typically drawn close to 70,000 people in recent years, with 2018 holding the record of 69,944.
Across the convention center, machinery and crop protection companies shared the showroom floor with more niche agricultural organizations and businesses. The FFA’s expo display showcased famous FFA alumni and featured some of the jackets that are associated with FFA history, include the jacket of Bre Holbert, the first female African-American FFA president. College booths were often stacked two deep with prospects interested in their programs, while long food lines took some real patience to wait through. And an entire wing was dedicated to retailers of a variety of rural and Western clothing and goods.
Amid it all was wall-to-wall blue corduroy — students who were putting in late nights and early mornings to make the most of their experience at the convention and in the city of Indianapolis.
“We’re from a really small, rural area, so the experience of being in a bigger city is great,” said Jenna Kratky, an advisor from Sylvan Grove, Kansas. “Making connections with people all across the country is fantastic. And at the convention, I feel the students get to learn a lot about career options that, being from our area, they may not realize are out there.”
Gabe Detlor, for example, zeroed in on the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology, whose booth featured a video-game-like welding simulator. Detlor, a senior from Wisconsin, was here for the first time and appreciated the vibe at the convention.
“The people are nice. There’s been a lot of co-mingling between schools and states,” he said.
He certainly wasn’t the only person to recognize that. One table of FFA members from Benton Community in Iowa found themselves sharing a table with a member from Illinois who they just met.
“There are a lot of people here, but because they’re all in FFA, we instantly have something in common,” said Keaten Volesky, who noted that as a farm kid, he also enjoyed visiting the machinery booths and embracing being “a John Deere guy.”
Another Benton Community member, Jessica Crawford, said, “I like seeing everyone here and visiting the different booths.” The senior was in Indianapolis in 2019 for the convention and was able to give a bit of a then-and-now comparison. It feels like this year is “more hyped up, because it’s our first time back in a while,” she said.
Trinity LaGrange noted that the “speakers here were one of the real highlights.” Her, Volesky, Crawford, Raynee LaGrange, and thousands of their fellow members saw agricultural TV personality Courtenay DeHoff give the opening session’s keynote address on Wednesday evening. Getting up close with ag figures such as DeHoff (and even getting their autographs) helps to make events like this particularly memorable.
Talking with various companies and organizations (not to mention winning things at the booths), narrowing down the search for the right agricultural college, and celebrating the shared experience of agriculture are also some of the things that will have a lasting effect on these young agriculturalists.
Stay up-to-date with more news from the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo here.
Ryan Tipps is the managing editor for AGDAILY. He has covered farming since 2011, and his writing has been honored by state- and national-level agricultural organizations.