One of Gracie Furnish’s first memories on the farm was checking cattle with her dad. Coming from a pretty large family, farming is a tradition. But it wasn’t until Furnish took her first agricultural science class in seventh grade that the ninth-generation Kentucky farmer saw all the amazing opportunities in ag before her. Now Furnish is helping lead the nation’s most prestigious agricultural education organization — the National FFA.
“I have always wanted to make a difference in this world, but was never quite sure how,” Furnish said. “FFA allowed me to see that I could step up, serve, learn, and grow. I found a place where I belonged, could utilize my strengths, be challenged, serve others, and learn about agriculture.”
Furnish has certainly found her place as the 2017-2018 National FFA Eastern Region Vice President. In fact, one might say Furnish found her home.
“I’ve always known there are amazing people in our organization and industry, but there are just even more examples throughout this year. I walk into places as a complete stranger, but they make me feel right at home,” Furnish said. “I love getting to see where people are from, what they are passionate about, and learn from them. Every place is so unique and different, but we are all connected by a drive and dedication for agriculture and leadership.”
Furnish comes from a unique ag background herself. The ninth generation in her family to be involved in Burley tobacco production, Furnish said when she first got involved in FFA and learned about the Supervised Agricultural Experiences, it only seemed natural to have a project in this area. While some might say tobacco production is a dying industry, the crop is still very crucial to her family and they are fortunate to still have a large operation, raising about 200 acres each year.
As Furnish became more involved in FFA, her SAE projects grew into new topics such as beef cattle production, agricultural education exploration, and agri-science research. It also helped her family is one of the first to be involved in the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in Kentucky.
Starting in 2014, farmers in Kentucky could apply for permits to raise industrial hemp. For it to be classified as industrial hemp, it must be below 0.3 percent THC (the psychoactive component that would cause someone to become high from marijuana). While industrial hemp is used for CBD oil and fiber to be used in many different products for medicinal purposes, plastics, clothing, food, animal bedding, and more, there is still a social stigma against the crop. That’s why Furnish decided to make her agri-science project on the “Societal Perceptions and Misconceptions of Industrial Hemp,” and how the industry can work to educate the public on hemp and its uses.
That thinking outside of the box has been what Furnish most enjoys from her time as a National FFA Officer thus far.
“Pretty amazing how FFA brings people together and offers opportunities no matter where you are from,” Furnish said. “It may not be exactly like what is happening in other states, but the coolest part is the opportunities in our organization can be utilized no matter where you are.”
Furnish said her ultimate goal in office is to “pour into others as other people have done for me.” The young agvocate says her most life changing experiences have happened when she’s been pushed outside of her comfort zone.
“FFA is a place where we can feel comfortable and challenged to grow and try something new,” Furnish said. “I want students to know that what they do matters, and there is no limit to what they can accomplish and the ways they can change our world.”
Furnish said she’s never left an agriculture or FFA event without feeling like a better person or excited to try something new. One of her favorite quotes is, “grow what lasts longer than you.”
“FFA has been around for 90 years. If I can be a part of continuing to plant the seeds to grow students and our organization, then I will do everything I can,” Furnish said. “I have always had a drive and passion to advance and advocate for agriculture, and this is an amazing opportunity to do both.”
When Furnish was elected, she was in the middle of her sophomore year at the University of Kentucky. Once her term as National FFA Officer is up in October she plans to return to her studies in agricultural education and agricultural economics. She says she would love to eventually open a school or facility and offer rehabilitation/therapy involving agriculture.
“I am very passionate about creating opportunities for all students through agriculture. I’ve seen how my life has been changed and the people that have made that possible,” Furnish said. “I also have a dream of helping people from all walks of life, needs, backgrounds, interests, and experiences through agriculture.”
For an FFA member interested in running for National Office, Furnish would ask them to consider first why they want to serve. As the VP points out, taking a step away from “regular life” has been an amazing journey for Furnish.
“If it can happen for me, it can happen for them too. While you are serving others, they inspire you and change your life more,” Furnish said. “I don’t believe you have to have a title to serve. This year is a blessing and allows me so many experiences to serve, but I also had to realize that if I didn’t get elected I could still lead and make a difference.”