For College of Agriculture and Life Sciences freshmen Zannah Tyndall and Lisandra Mejia, FFA has been a contributing factor in who they are. They credit the organization with immeasurable opportunities, and both NC State students find it hard to imagine where they would be without FFA.
Then and Now
The National FFA Organization was founded in 1928 under the name Future Farmers of America. It wasn’t until 50 years ago, in 1969, that women were allowed to become official members. In 1976, Julie Smiley became the first female national officer and in 1979, Beth Smith Weavil became the first female N.C. FFA state officer. Jan Eberly became the first female national FFA president in 1982, and Kelly Butler Chapman became the first female that served as the N.C. FFA state president in 1990. In 2017, Breanna Holbert became the first black woman elected as president of the organization. It’s not only the number of women in leadership roles throughout the organization rising. So is the number of female members.
There are more than 20,000 members in the North Carolina FFA Chapter, and women now account for 44% of membership. Due to the increase in female members, a new female dormitory was built at the N.C. FFA Center at White Lake to meet housing demands for camps there.
“Women today are growing agriculture. It is no longer one man taking a cow to town to sell. It is finance, communications, policy – it is more than traditional farming,” says Tyndall.
Tyndall, a current FFA state officer, comes from a fourth-generation family farm in Sampson County. Although her parents were members of FFA, Tyndall says it was her high school agriculture education teacher who introduced her.
“As I got involved in FFA, I enjoyed the activities. The farming side, of course, but the non-farming side of FFA surprised me – the leadership, character building and friendships,” says Tyndall. It’s strengthened her communication skills, too. In June, Tyndall placed first among her North Carolina peers in the Extemporaneous Public Speaking Competition, allowing her to compete at the national level. She placed third, which she says is a huge accomplishment. And it’s not just communication skills, FFA has helped her discover her passions.
“The most amazing thing that I have learned is my value,” says Tyndall. “We are feeding and clothing the world.”
Unlike Tyndall, Mejia didn’t grow up on a family farm. In fact, a career in agriculture wasn’t even on her radar.
“I wanted to be a vet since the fourth grade,” says Mejia. She knew NC State was home to one of the best vet schools. Her middle school counselor encouraged her to take agriculture classes in high school since the program she needed in college started with CALS. “I signed up for as many ag classes as I could.”
That’s when her dream of becoming a vet switched. “I fell in love with horticulture and agriculture education,” she says. “I figured out that my purpose was in the classroom.”
Teachers as Role Models
Like Tyndall, Mejia’s high school agriculture teacher encouraged her to get involved with FFA. She says her teacher helped her realize the incredible opportunities she might have missed if she hadn’t been a member.
“Many of my achievements, had I not been in FFA, would not exist,” says Mejia. “FFA has made me into the person I am today. It focuses on premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agriculture education.” It’s preparing members, especially young women like Mejia and Tyndall, to be active citizens and desirable employees in the agricultural industry.
If it wasn’t for teachers like the ones Mejia and Tyndall had, maybe there would not be as many young women in FFA as there are today. Many of the agriculture teachers in North Carolina are women, in fact, 53%. They’re serving as role models to the dozens of girls who want to have a career in the agriculture industry. One of those teachers is CALS alumna Tara King.
King teaches animal science at Gray’s Creek High School in Cumberland County. She became the school’s first agriculture education teacher in 2003, after graduating from NC State. She also launched the school’s FFA program.
“This is my 17th year teaching. When I started, I had 22 FFA members and myself. We have over 300 FFA members now,” she says. King herself is a product of the organization, serving as a state officer when she was younger to now teaching the next generation and serving on FFA’s state board of directors.
King says her goal goes beyond teaching students the value and importance of agriculture, it’s also teaching young adults about work ethic, time management and program planning while increasing their organizational skills — all things she says are taught through FFA.
“Of course we hope they go into the agriculture industry, and they see that as a viable option but if their heart leads them somewhere else, down a different career path, they’re a better person and are going to be a better employee,” says King. FFA gives students the tools and skills to be job-ready for whatever industry they choose.
“Women in the industry often begin as successful young females in FFA. The organization develops skills in women that are beneficial to their personal values and professional development,” says Tyndall. “I think more women are being drawn to FFA and the agricultural industry because of the diversification of the industry.”
There are more than 250 unique career options in agriculture for FFA members today. And it doesn’t matter what field Tyndall and Mejia go into because everything they learned in FFA will always be applicable.
Provide life-changing leadership opportunities for FFA members like Zannah and Lisandra by supporting the NC FFA Foundation.
Tyndall is pursuing a degree in agricultural business management with a minor in extension education. Mejia is pursuing a degree in agricultural education with a minor in horticulture.
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.