Being the youngest of four, I was tolerated as the tag along. But my brother, Kit, was kind.
When we were toddlers, Kit used to kiss me like Bugs Bunny kissed Elmer Fudd. When we got a little older, he’d sometimes sock me in the stomach. By high school, there was 20 yards between us as we walked into school every morning but I always knew that from the corner of his eye, Kit watched over me. He cared. He played football on the high school team, wore his FFA (Future Farmers of America) jacket proudly, and worked part time at a veterinary clinic. I adored him. Still do.
So whenever I see someone wearing the blue and corn gold colored FFA jacket something inside just feels good. Hopeful. Affirming.
Last year at the rodeo I spotted a group of youngsters wearing their FFA jackets and went over to chat with them awhile. They were as nice as the FFA members I knew in high school. Courteous too. “Yes ma’am” isn’t something I often hear from a bunch of teenagers.
Courteous too. “Yes ma’am” isn’t something I often hear from a bunch of teenagers.
Usually, when I go to the rodeo, I have no particular assignment story, but this year was different. I remembered those FFA youngsters from a year ago and thought now this is one I could happily go looking for.
I found them gathered under a big sign that said WELCOME TO AGVENTURE – waiting to take young school kids on a tour through a building full of chickens, cows, rabbits and more.
Some were in charge of taking the children on the swine tour. Others were responsible for leading them through the chicken and cattle exhibits. They were kind enough to let me mosy along and learn too. Throughout the tour, it was easy to see that these FFA members connected with the kids as much as they did with the animals. Afterwards, I had the pleasure of visiting with a few of them.
Caitlin Toomey, age 16, grew up around the rodeo and has shown llamas. “It (FFA) teaches you a lot about responsibility,” she said, “and we get to help a lot of people.”
Throughout the tour, it was easy to see that these FFA members connected with the kids as much as they did with the animals.
Miles Hackstedt, also 16, says it makes him feel good to teach kids about agriculture. “How they get food, clothing, stuff they need,” he explained. “Hopefully, these kids will keep the cycle going.”
Hunter Bean, age 15, believes that the FFA “teaches you lessons you can carry with you your entire life.” He likes the responsibility of taking care of animals. “I learn from them,” he said.
Later, I asked the youngsters if I could take a group photograph. Taking one look at these fine folks, you gotta believe that the FFA is alive and very well. But, if any of you youngsters need some encouragement, just talk with someone who still exemplifies the FFA spirit.
At age 61, Kit runs his farm and works in the trust department of a bank. Early most mornings, we talk on the phone over coffee. He tells me about the geese on the pond, how many calves he’s counted. We talk about the long, cold winter there but how beautiful spring should be. I can’t wait to go see.
If Henry Ford’s right, “The farther we get away from the land, the greater our insecurity,” Kit need never worry. Neither do any of you, Future Farmers of America.