One of the most important ways an FFA member can advocate for agriculture is meeting with their local officials or legislators. These elected officials will be the ones who initiate change through legislation for the years that follow. The National FFA Organization has always encouraged FFA members to make these connections and to advocate for agriculture education while doing so.
However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, FFA members were not allowed to visit their elected officials due to the fear of spreading the virus. Capitol buildings were shut down and FFA members — along with other organizations — had to stay at home. However, as things begin to open back up, it is important to remember to stay in contact with those officials and try to set up a meeting.
This year, the Kelly FFA Chapter in Benton, Missouri, invited their elected state officials — Rep. Jamie Burger and Sen. Holly Rehder — to come and visit with their members. In addition to the FFA members, the junior and senior classes were invited to the assembly. Instead of meeting just a small group of students that could fit in a van, Burger and Rehder were able to meet with a larger group of students. During this assembly, the elected officials spoke on what they do on a daily basis and the importance of the students getting to know their elected officials.
Students were able to learn everything from how a bill is made to the current status of a bills that affect them. Throughout the assembly, Burger and Rehder emphasized the importance of the farming community but also told the students that not everyone was raised with an agricultural background and that it is up to the students to be advocates for that lifestyle.
“People are raised differently than us and so people have different opinions. There is a way to debate and there is a way to get your point across while still being respectful of what their knowledge is and their understanding is, but still being able to represent ourselves,” Rehder said.
Burger attributes his success as a legislator from the time that he was involved in Future Farmers of America — now the National FFA Organization.
When talking about his time in FFA, Burger said “We practiced parliamentary procedures on a regular basis.”
Although in high school you may not understand why you have to practice so often, it did come in handy, Burger said. Burger also credits FFA for teaching him correct etiquette and emphasized the importance of being a confident public speaker.
“Coming from an agriculture background and farm family, the record keeping that we were required to do and learning all the things of FFA — I just think all of it prepared me for this. The record keeping was a budget thing and helped me in county government and has also helped me in state government as a legislator,” Burger explained.
Although it is more exciting for students to travel and meet their elected officials at the Capitol, being able to meet with the students in any setting face to face is uplifting to the elected officials. Burger reiterated the importance of students — whether that be FFA members or just young people in general — to meet their legislators and be able to put a face to the name.
“Kids that are in high school or in FFA need to see someone from their community, who had the same struggles as them and raised the same doing this job.” Burger said. “Our opportunities are endless.”
Whether FFA members live in a rural or urban setting, their elected representatives need to hear from the future generation and the importance of agriculture education. Making these connections will help develop a relationship with elected officials and to grow the members’ experience within FFA.