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Celebrating FFA Week

In celebration of National FFA Week, held February 20-27, 2021, we interviewed two members of the Pennsylvania FFA Officer Team. Mikara Anderson, state president, and Cody Lehman, state vice president, discussed their journeys through FFA and perspectives on the future of agriculture. Listen to the full podcast episode with Mikara and Cody here.

Could you share with us about how you first got interested in FFA, what you’ve gained from the program and why you were interested in serving in a leadership role as part of the state officer team?
Mikara: 
I grew up in an agricultural community, and I was carrying on my family legacy when I became old enough to join FFA, as all of my family members were also FFA members. Although I became a member because my family members had been, once I got involved in chapter activities, I began to carve my own path and find what I was most passionate about, which ultimately was production agriculture, as well as leadership. 

The FFA program has contributed to so much of who I am today, but it has mainly allowed me to realize my passion for animal agriculture. It has positively evolved my communication skills. I've created long lasting connections and networks with a variety of people to have in my corner. And I have found a community that I can call home. I wanted to serve as a state officer to be a resource to FFA members who are currently enrolled, so that I can secure even better opportunities for them in the future.

Cody:
My FFA journey probably looks a little bit different than most. I didn't come from a school district that offered agricultural education or FFA. When I was entering high school, I remember I was looking at my course selection sheet in eighth grade for high school and was disappointed that there didn't seem to be a whole lot of classes that really piqued my interest. My parents found out that a neighboring school district was allowing transfer students from outside the district to transfer at no charge to take ag classes. I was opposed to the idea at first of transferring to a new school, having to meet new people and relearn that whole system. I remember going to tour the school and to seeing everything that the students got to do both in FFA and agricultural education, and I was blown away. It immediately drew me in, and I haven't really looked back ever since I transferred.

Through FFA I've been able to explore so many different career areas in agriculture and help to find out what my passions are as well as develop different leadership skills. I have been able to grow in so many ways and meet so many people that I never really thought I'd have the opportunity to meet or do things I'd never thought I'd have the opportunity to do. 

The reason that I became interested in running for state office is all those opportunities that FFA gave to me. I remember looking up to the state officers and seeing all the ways that they influenced my life. I wanted to do the same for other students and give back to the organization that's given so much to me.

Cody, could you share with our listeners about how the FFA program, both at the local chapter level and state/national level, has had to adapt in this environment to continue to meet its mission?
Cody:
I'm not going to lie. It's definitely been difficult. I'm sure I don't have to explain that to anybody that this year has been different, and it's really been hard. But the unique thing about this situation is that we're all experiencing this together, and everybody's been influenced one way or another by this pandemic. Something that we've heard over and over again this year is our mission as state officers has not changed, just the way that we conduct that mission. 

We saw that same attitude of resourcefulness from all of our members and our ag teachers across the state. Rather than just sitting back and saying, "Well, this year is different and we can't do anything," we've seen them step up to the plate and say, "What can we do with what we have?"

We've seen everything this year from drive through chapter banquets to afterschool lock-ins, and other types of events, trying to keep members and students engaged. The virtual world, isn't something that we would probably all choose to be in over in-person, but there's been so many new opportunities through virtual events that we really haven't had the opportunity to do before.

One of those is our “Inside the Jacket” series that we started this year, as a recorded way to reach out to members, whether they're first year members or maybe second or third year members that want to learn more about what is FFA and what do we do. We've provided a recorded video series on our YouTube channel for that. 

Just last week we had the national officer state experience week, which is something that we've never had the opportunity to participate in before, because of scheduling conflicts. With the virtual setting, we were able to have four of the national officers Zoom into schools all around the state and present workshops and different keynote speeches, which was just an incredible experience for our members to get to interact with a national officer one-on-one. It’s something that they wouldn't have had the opportunity to do before.

It's been different, but it's just been incredible to see the way that our teachers and our members have really stepped up and taken the initiative to make the most out of this year, even though it looks so different.

Serving as part of the state officer team is a big honor; congratulations to both of you for this achievement! Mikara, could you share your greatest takeaways so far in serving in this role?
Mikara:
Thank you so much for the congratulations. Serving as a state officer is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and my teammates and I are incredibly grateful as well as humbled to represent our over 13,000 Pennsylvania FFA members. 

For me, my greatest takeaway so far this year is the power of being present, especially in these virtual COVID times. We understand that we seriously have a need for human interaction, and it is so important that we are making those special connections with each other and those around us.

This year, I have learned to be intentional in my time with members as well as those non-members, so that I can always air on the optimistic side and be positive, no matter the situation. It is so important that those who are in leadership positions, no matter whether it's FFA, politics, in a specific career field, are involved in our community members' lives, and that they are always setting that great example of positivity and optimism, which I think we are especially seeing the benefits of this year.

FFA is focused on the future, preparing the next generation for what lies ahead. Mikara and Cody, here’s a two-part question for each of you. First, tell us about your future - where do you see yourself in the future and how will you continue to be an advocate for our industry? Second, could you share with our listeners what excites you the most about the future of agriculture?

Cody:
Well, I'm actually going to answer that sort of in reverse order. The thing that excites me about the future of agriculture is that it's constantly changing. Agriculture is a science-based field, and it's so neat to see how it's always changing and adapting, asking the question, "How can we do things better and more efficiently?" Something that excites me personally is the increased interest in cover cropping and regenerative agriculture.

I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with a couple of local farmers just this past week who were interested in the soil health and regenerative agriculture. It's just been neat to see how they've been implementing new methods and trying to grow more food. As we know, that the population of the United States is only going to increase, it's neat to see the way that farmers can utilize cover crops and new technology to grow more food on less land to feed that growing population. But they can also grow that food in a way that's profitable for them, and healthy for the environment and sustainable, leaving the land better than they found it.

Because of FFA, that's really helped to show me where my passions lie in plant and soil science. So as for me, I would like to pursue a career in plant and soil science and help to advocate for agriculture by promoting those methods of regenerative agriculture and cover cropping, and see how we can implement them to grow more food on less land and help to feed that growing population in a way that's profitable for our farmers and also sustainable for our environment.

Mikara:
I am currently a sophomore at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, where I'm studying animal science, with minors in agribusiness management and wildlife and fishery sciences. 

Right now I would love to obtain a position with the United States Army Corps of Engineers at the Raystown Lake Project as one of their park rangers. Then eventually I’d like to move up through the ranks to become their environmental stewardship ranger. I had an internship there over the summer and I'm going to be working there again this summer as a park ranger. I absolutely love educating people about the environment and all the conservation efforts that we are doing at Raystown Lake to be sure that it is going to be sustainable for many years into the future. 

In these positions, I would be involved in protecting our environment, but also educating people about those different aspects of our environment that we are trying to protect. Plus, I will always raise my sheep flock on the side.

I agree with Cody on how exciting it is about all of these new agricultural advancements that we have to look forward to over our lifetime. For the future of agriculture, I am also super excited for all the students and young agricultural professionals who will find themselves in these agriculturally-related positions in the next few years. 

Our FFA membership is always growing, and this year we have our third highest membership number ever. We have a fantastic group of students who soon will use what they are learning in their classrooms and in their SAE projects and to apply that to an actual career in agriculture. I'm so excited to see these bright minds work together to feed our growing population as well as to solve all of these issues that we may face in agriculture.
 

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