National FFA president calls yearlong experience ’empowering’

By Josette Keelor

To say Brian Walsh has had a busy year is an understatement.

Since last October, the Woodstock resident has visited 29 states and traveled about 75,000 miles to give presentations and speak with Future Farmers of America students, politicians, business owners and educators. For 10 days in January, he met with Japanese high school students and studied how Japan’s agricultural systems varies from the America’s. Over the last month, he’s attended FFA state conventions in Florida, Mississippi, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Rhode Island and Alaska.

Elected national FFA president last fall, he expected to travel about 300 to 310 days of the year, but until he experienced it for himself he said there was no imagining what it would mean to be president.

“It’s been very empowering,” he said, speaking by phone from Detroit on his way from Washington, D.C., to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

By now, the 21-year-old is used to the travel schedule, but he wasn’t always this way.

An FFA member since ninth grade, he said, “I started as that really, really shy person that never wanted to do anything.”

So he did what he now advises other motivated FFA members to do: “Get involved in everything that you can now.”

Central High School agriculture teacher Dana Fisher remembers Walsh as a great student who “really enjoyed learning.”

In high school, Walsh’s FFA team won the state convention each year, something Fisher said is pretty hard to do.

In 10th grade Walsh attended his first national convention in Indianapolis. Standing on the floor of the convention center, he stared up at a sea of at least 50,000 blue jackets. He said he knew at that moment he wanted to work his way up to the top.

With 63,000 attendees at last year’s event in Louisville, Kentucky, Fisher said, “It’s the largest annual convention in the country.”

Only the Democratic and Republican national conventions outmatch it in attendance, but those don’t happen every year, he said.

Walsh, who was elected FFA Virginia state president in 2011, attended two national conventions as a candidate before being named president.

“Now I get to go as an actual officer,” he said.

The last eight months as president have flown by, he said. Visits home, like the two days he had in Woodstock this week, are infrequent but let him catch up with family and attend big events like his sister Jackie’s graduation from Central High School last month.

Now that state convention season is over, he’s preparing for conference season and another visit D.C. in a couple weeks.

“That’s what I love about the job is it’s different every week,” he said. “Adapatability is one of my greatest strengths.”

After his term ends, he’ll return to school at Virginia Tech to finish his degree in agribusiness. Then he said he hopes to teach in an urban setting before eventually owning his own business.

“I guess that’s the ultimate dream,” he said.

But still president until October, he’s enjoying learning about the various backgrounds of agriculture students from around the world.

In Japan, farms are smaller than they are in the U.S., and though the Japanese don’t grow genetically modified food, they produce hundreds of pounds of hydroponic lettuce 40 layers high. Walsh called it an efficient process that produces a quality product.

Meeting with high school students and staying with a host family also taught him about Japanese culture, which he said focuses on family and pride in what’s theirs.

Naturally, their diets focus on fish and rice, but they managed to surprise him too.

The first night they, he said, they served “some of the best fried chicken I had in my life.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com