FFA members on a mission

The Strasburg High School FFA members visited Washington, D.C., recently to advocate for agricultural education programs. Shown during their visit are, from left, Rachel Funkhouser, 18; Nathan McDonald, 16; Ashley Yanego, 17; Brent Robinson, legislative director for U.S. Rep. Rob Whitman of Virginia's 1st District; Devon Eyring, 16; and Hannah Orndorff, 16. Courtesy photo

STRASBURG – Members of the Strasburg High School FFA celebrated National FFA Week last week with a visit to Washington, D.C., to advocate for agriculture education and the FFA.

While at Capitol Hill, the students spoke with legislators about why agriculture education is important to students and communities.

FFA adviser Brian Fisher said this was the first time the students were able to advocate on this level to those in positions of power within the government.

“It was a really neat experience,” he said.

Rachel Funkhouser, 18, of Strasburg, said they received advocacy training in the American Farm Bureau Federation building on how to promote agriculture in the classroom and in FFA.

Ashley Yanego, 17, of Strasburg, said they wore official dress on their trip and they assumed that everyone would know what FFA was, but when they were talking to the various legislative assistants, the club was often confused with business organizations and ROTC.

She said the students explained the three components of agriculture education to those who weren’t familiar with FFA. The first component is in the information learned in the classroom.

“In the classroom students can learn anything from public speaking to crops, from agriculture mechanics to horticulture,” she said.

The skills learned in the classroom are then used in supervised agriculture experience outside the classroom. Then students in FFA can earn proficiency awards and have access to experiences and opportunities within FFA.

All these components link together with agriculture education, which Ashley said is why advocating for agriculture education is important – so others can pursue these career fields in the future – and targeting the youth in FFA has been an effective tool.

“We were there to advocate and it was effective and they care about what we’re doing for the youth in agriculture,” she said.

Another reason that having the youth advocate for other students is useful, she said: “You can connect with people that are going through the experience. We’ve been in FFA for six or seven years so it’s better to hear it from the source.”

Nathan McDonald, 16, of Strasburg, said they were able to speak with many different people from around the nation and the world about what FFA is and why it’s important.

“Just walking around Capitol Hill in our blue jackets, we didn’t just advocate to the legislative assistants, but we had many people stop and talk to us about FFA,” he said.

Hannah Orndorff, 16, of Strasburg, said that she met someone from the Netherlands who was representing a flower association.

“It was really cool,” she said, “It’s not just our version of agriculture but from all over the place.”

Nathan added that they got the chance to explain how FFA has shaped their lives and detail their experiences with the group.

“We told them about how we joined FFA through middle school and how it affected us through high school and middle school and how it’s going to affect us throughout the rest of our lives,” he said, “And about the different life skills we learned through FFA and how it’s going to prepare us for after high school.”

Ashley added, “One thing we pointed out was that FFA is not what it was like when our grandparents were in school.”

She said it’s not just about farming. Technical, mechanical, chemical and mathematical skills that fall under STEM career skills are all learned within FFA.

“Agriculture is going to be something that you can always get a career in. It’s not going to die out. You’re always going to need agriculture. Getting the opportunity to advocate for something so important was really cool for us,” she added.

Hannah added that sharing experiences with others in Washington helped her see FFA from the outside.

“People only think of it as Future Farmers of America,” she said. But that was the organization’s former name. Now it’s the National FFA Organization, she said. “Personally I didn’t come from a farming background. I joined because my mom and granddad were in FFA.”

She focuses on the community service, leadership and public speaking aspects of FFA. “It was really cool to spread that we aren’t just farming,” she said.

Another fact they shared was that FFA groups aren’t only located in rural communities. There are also FFA chapters in urban and suburban communities.

Rachel said, “I thought it was really interesting that being as young as we are, we can actually impact the government. While we are advocating we can actually express a need that needs to be made in the government and change things based on what students need here and everywhere.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com