At this year’s 89th National FFA Convention & Expo, David Townsend was named the 2016-17 National FFA President — the first person from Delaware ever to hold that office. We had some questions for Townsend on his involvement in FFA, his goals as president, and why non-ag students should consider joining a chapter.
Q. You didn’t grow up on a farm or have an ag background, how did you develop a passion for agriculture?
A. One of the greatest things about FFA is that there genuinely is a place for everyone who wants to be involved! While many FFA members have grown up on farms all across rural America, a good majority of FFA members have not. For many students — much like myself — their first interaction with the agriculture industry, and the over 235 unique career opportunities it provides, comes when they enroll in an agricultural education course at their middle or high school. This is where involvement in various Career and Leadership Development Events, a students’ Supervised Agricultural Experience enterprise, and the engaging material taught in the classroom becomes so instrumental.
Q. What made you decide to get involved in FFA?
A. I actually was placed into an Animal Science 1 class randomly during the second semester of my freshman year. My high school is formatted as block scheduling, meaning that students have four classes during their first semester, and four different ones during the second semester. My interest was piqued when my teacher encouraged me to join a Career Development Event (CDE) team along with three of my friends. The subject of this particular CDE was Milk Quality and Products — which effectively prepares students competing in this CDE for a job in the dairy industry, especially as it pertains to the processing of dairy products and the food science component of this field. This is just one of the 24 Career and Leadership Development Events held on the national level. CDEs are just one of the many different opportunities available to those involved with Agricultural Education. Along with classroom/laboratory instruction and Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs), the National FFA Organization is an integral part of Agricultural Education. Supervised Agricultural Experience projects allow students to take something they have learned about in the classroom, or through an experience in FFA to the next level. … Not every middle or high school student can say that they have relationships with people from all across the country, but FFA members can.
Q. As a Delaware FFA officer, what achievements are you most proud of?
A. I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to facilitate leadership workshops for teams of officers at chapters from across the state at our Chapter Officer Leadership Training. This event gave us the chance to further train these student teams while getting to interact and form friendships with outstanding individuals from high schools all over Delaware. I really enjoyed and benefited from this conference as a chapter officer, and had an even better time attending as a State FFA Officer.
Q. Why did you decide to enter the National Candidate process?
A. For each of us on the National FFA Officer Team, the motivation to run for a position on this team of officers was slightly different, but ultimately the goal was and is to positively influence the lives of FFA members in a similar way that each of us were positively influenced. For me, that motivation comes from a position of learning. It is so cool to me that every single person we come in contact with has had different experiences than I have. Every person we meet knows something that we don’t, and each of them have a unique perspective on the world. It is our responsibility to learn from those around us with every chance we get! This year the team and I get the tremendous opportunity to do just that as we interact with individuals from different places and backgrounds, and those with different experiences than each of us have had in our lives. We get to learn a lot about those we interact with, and my hope is that those I learn from will also make the effort to learn something new from every person they come into contact with.
Q. What do the next few months look like for you?
A. Right now we are each home in our respective states doing our best to finish up the semester’s work before heading back out to Indianapolis following Thanksgiving. Throughout December and the beginning of January, we will be completing training and preparation for the year ahead of us. Following training in January, we will hold the first board meeting of the year combining the National Officer Team as the Student Board and the Board of Directors as the Adult Board to look at ways to continue to progress the National FFA Organization for the year to come. We will then be attending the Presidential Inauguration, before heading on an international trip to Japan to witness international agricultural trade first-hand and interact with student members of the FFJ (Future Farmers of Japan).
Q. How do you plan to represent and showcase Delaware’s FFA chapter and state agricultural sector in this position?
A. This position will allow for me to share a lot about who I am and where I am from. Delaware FFA and Delaware Agriculture have helped to mold me into the person I am. It is in these moments when I am encouraged to share my story that I am able to also share the story of Delaware because it is where I am from, and a part of who I am.
Q. What are you plans for the future after FFA?
A. For the past couple summers, I have gotten to work with Phil and Muriel Sousa on their small produce farm down the road from my house. Every time I am over there picking blackberries, pulling weeds, interacting with customers, or transplanting seedlings, I feel like I can’t stop smiling. I love the lessons I have learned about growing produce and about life from Phil and Muriel. As I work my way through school focusing on plant science, it is my hope that I can be best prepared to secure a piece of land that can be as productive and fruitful — both in growing produce and fostering relationships — as Phil and Muriel’s farm has been. In short, I want to farm produce.
Q. Who has influenced your path in FFA the most and how?
A. There have been a great number of people who have supported, inspired, and influenced me throughout my involvement in the National FFA Organization. This involvement would not have been initiated, and this journey would not have begun, however were it not for one of my agriscience teachers and FFA advisors encouraging me to get connected in the first place. That person is Mr. Jeff Billings. … His ability to see potential, and foster the growth necessary to see that potential realized — academically, professionally, socially — is what has helped to grow our program and develop the strong individuals who are the product of that program. Mr. Billings is irreplaceable, and certainly underappreciated, but his passion for youth development and seeing others succeed through his service to agricultural education is truly inspiring.
Q. Why would you encourage non-ag students to become a member of FFA?
A. Even if you don’t believe there is a place for you in the agriculture industry or in FFA, take the opportunity to get involved in some way before making your final decision. Because of my involvement in FFA, I have made friends with some of the most incredible people, gotten to travel across the state, country, and world, and am more prepared now than I ever have been before for any career that I may choose to go into. You’ll have some space in your schedule for elective courses, and my hope is that you’ll choose an agricultural science course if one is available to you!
Q. Why do you think young people today should consider a career in agriculture?
A. The agriculture industry has such a wide array of positions, and the potential to house a career no matter your area of interest. There is truly a place for everyone in agriculture. Whether you would like to work in public relations, communications, and marketing, or you would like to develop a new product in a lab or workshop, or you would like to be a part of producing the food and fiber for millions of people across the globe, you have a place in the agriculture industry. You have a place in the most pervasive community of individuals who are working to make the world a better place while feeding and clothing the people around them. Plus, there are two jobs for every graduate with an agriculture degree, so the job outlook is pretty good, we need more people to help produce and process agricultural products to feed the world, and you meet some pretty amazing individuals who are passionate about serving others along the way.
Get insight into Delaware’s FFA chapter by reading this.