It was the fall of 1928 when 33 boys from 18 states convened during the American Royal livestock show in Kansas City with an idea. They wanted to establish a place where rural young people could find a sense of purpose and belonging; a place where they could prepare for a prosperous future. They created what was known as the Future Farmers of America.
There's little doubt those young men felt the significance of their actions, but it would have been impossible for them to see their ultimate influence. As we celebrate National FFA Week 91 years later with a record number of FFA members – more than 670,000 – now in rural, suburban and urban classrooms across the country, it's clear they had a good idea.
FFA is growing because our members are choosing to continually modernize their student-led organization. This year marks 50 years since student delegates made the landmark decision that finally allowed national female membership – a vote that proved invaluable to expanding FFA to all students. Nineteen years later in 1988, those delegates also chose to rename their organization to simply "FFA" as they sought to demonstrate how wearing a blue corduroy jacket provided opportunity including and beyond production agriculture.
FFA remains relevant today because of its vital integration in a school's rigorous, skills-based agricultural education program that delivers ready-to-use career skills and challenging real-world experiences that encourage students to aim higher.
The success stories of FFA members and their chapters are as numerous as they are varied. In Iowa, the most recent FFA member to win our national award for efforts in agriscience took inspiration from biology and animal science courses to establish a research project that generated ethanol from switchgrass and prairie cordgrass -- all from within his parents’ basement. In Connecticut, FFA members get fast-paced and hands-on instruction in marine ecology, seafood science and more. And in Indianapolis during last fall's National FFA Convention & Expo, more than 4,000 members participated in a brand new, thought-provoking experience called the FFA Blue Room that illustrated how agriculture, innovation, technology, human health and engineering are converging to create new opportunities for students.
All of this is happening with students that are breaking the mold. In a world shaped more and more by interaction in the digital space, students routinely cite how FFA becomes a place to belong that delivers meaningful direction and purpose. And when students leave the classroom, the skills they learned are going with them. More than 75 percent head to a career related to agriculture, while 80 percent say their FFA experience influenced their career path.
FFA is the top school-based youth leadership development organization in the country because we provide our members limitless opportunities and a community of support. It's a formula worth supporting as we keep growing and our members continue to earn the experience that will provide the next-generation of leaders ready to change the world.
Mark Poeschl is the CEO of the National FFA Organization and Foundation.