The End of a FFA Era
Ask anyone in the Agricultural and Human Sciences department and they will tell you that Elizabeth Espino has made a huge impact in her short time here at NC State. The rising senior is an agricultural education major that participates in the CALS Honors program, is the recipient of five different scholarships and served as an intern for the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute and currently for Lenior County Cooperative Extension.
Though, she will tell you that her most important and fulfilling role was serving as president of the North Carolina Future Farmers of America (FFA). As president of the NC FFA, she led more than 30,000 students ranging in age from middle school to high school that consisted of 338 chapters across the state. After serving as president for the 2021-2022 year, she retired from FFA. We chatted with her about her agriculture journey, favorite moments, and retirement from FFA.
How did you become interested in FFA?
I originally had no interest in joining FFA. My mom who works at my old high school changed my sophomore year schedule to incorporate an agriculture class to help me gain an easy A+ since my course load was filled up with honors, AP, and dual enrollment. I remember how badly I wanted to drop my first agriculture class, thinking both agriculture and FFA were weird. However, I decided to stick with the class and join FFA after my agriculture teacher showed us a video in class called the “Year 2050.” This video talked about how by 2050, we would have more than 9 billion people on Earth and yet how the agriculture industry was still expected to feed all 9 billion people. That video sparked my interest, made me realize the importance of agriculture, and prompted me to try FFA.
Tell us about your favorite events offered through FFA.
My favorite events were always the social and leadership events offered through both the State and National levels like the NCFFA Mega-Conference, State Convention, or National FFA Convention. These events always felt like one huge family reunion because the FFA is truly one big family. Seeing friends I met at prior events who lived across the State was always so fun catching up with them. When I attended the National Convention, it was so cool seeing and meeting members across the Nation who also had a love for the FFA.
What made holding a FFA officer position appealing to you?
Holding an FFA officer position was appealing to me because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of our members. I remember looking up so much to past State Officers and how much they made a difference in my life, and if I could do that even to one member, that would be fulfilling for me. I also wanted to make a difference with our minorities; being a Mexican-American, I knew how it felt too often to feel excluded or not seen in our organization, and I tried my best to let them know that I see them and that I am here for them.
What is the biggest challenge leading a large organization?
One of the biggest challenges I faced when leading a large organization was all the responsibilities of being an officer. It was hard to manage my college work, personal life, and role as an FFA Officer. Having to delegate my time on my work was essential to have a successful officer year and not fall behind in school work. Still, at the same time, I can remember being upset that I couldn’t go home to see family after weeks of not being able to see them or having to miss a social event so I could catch up on school work or to drive to another FFA event. And although this was the most challenging part of my year of service, I was lucky to have amazing advisors and mentors who would always help remind me of how lucky I was to be a State Officer. They would remind me how important it was for me to take full advantage of my one year of service. They knew how stressed I was, but they also knew how much I would later regret not taking advantage of my year of service. And I am glad I listened to them because as I now reflect on my state officer year, I am happy to say I have no regrets.
What do you like best about being an FFA officer?
My favorite part about being an officer was meeting and interacting with the students. I love meeting new people; I love getting to know students and learning about how they got started in the FFA or the places they hoped the FFA would take them. I enjoyed the real-life talks I had with members, especially when I could help members by sharing something about myself. For example, I am the first Hispanic State Officer of NC FFA, which is something I am very proud of, but that meant for me I never saw someone that looked like me in a high position within the NC FFA. So I did my best to make connections with all students but also with students that looked like me and let them know that I am here for them. That I see them and will do anything I can for them. I have had conversations with students that wanted to be the first in their family to go to college but were unsure about the resources they had or needed. As someone who went through that very same experience, I let them know that they are not alone and did my best to help them out. I did my best to show all our members that they are not alone no matter what they are going through.
What would you say are your biggest accomplishments as a team this year?
Being able to engage with many members after not having in-person FFA events for about two years was very rewarding. Especially being able to hype them up about the FFA with many of them not knowing what the FFA is all about was very important for us. Another huge accomplishment for us recently was the fact that during our state officer year, our membership grew from 24,000 to 31,000 FFA members making us the fourth largest FFA Association, following Georgia, California, and Texas. Lastly, our team strived to start initiatives to help our Association become more diverse and inclusive to all our members by recently pushing for a new Career Development Event of the Spanish Creed that would hopefully push for more participation from our Latinx and Hispanic students.
What is your favorite FFA memory?
My favorite FFA memory from high school would have to be when I competed in the Land Judging event in the fall of 2019. I was a senior in high school and was a last-minute replacement for the Land Judging Senior team. My advisor rented a cabin for all eight students and both chaperones to stay, and being from the eastern part of the State, this was so exciting. I can still vividly remember a few things about that trip. First, I was terrible at the competition and remember how upset I would get after getting my slope wrong during the practices. I remember this competition being the first FFA competition that I just kept failing. Even though I did not do well, my team came first in our region. But I also remember that in between all the practices, daily chores of keeping the cabin clean, and all the stress I felt, my teammates and I just had a great time getting to know each other more and exploring the western part of the State. I visited my first ever Christmas tree farm, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and just bonded with my fellow peers.
What will you miss since you are now retired?
The members. Being a State Officer is amazing. We get to travel, meet businesses, and have an opportunity to meet new people all the time. But the members were the reason why I applied to run for State Office; seeing students open up and getting the opportunity to experience different things within the FFA was always a rewarding experience for me. Even seeing the growth of one member from the first, I met them to see them later throughout my officer year and seeing how much they have grown as a leader within the FFA is so fulfilling. It’s like seeing your younger cousins grow up right in front of you but through the FFA.
What advice would you give future FFA leaders?
Go for it! Don’t let anything stop you. If you are unsure about joining the FFA or unsure that you should run for chapter office, just do it. Don’t let your fears scare you from trying something, especially not in FFA. You have no idea of all the FFA opportunities you have at your disposal. You will learn and grow so much from your FFA experiences. Lastly, make sure you thank your advisors, you know, the ones driving us to events or making us practice at early or late hours of the night, because no matter if we may win or not, at every event we go to, they make it possible for us to attend these events.