Unlikely path to FFA, fuels passion for agricultural career

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in a series of columns highlighting the area’s agricultural community.

It’s rare for a New York State FFA officer to not have grown up or live on a farm, so when I’m asked, “what kind of farm do you live on?,” I get an array of reactions — but usually ones of shock. That’s right, I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’m a still a state officer in this great organization with dreams of a career in agriculture.

I live right in the middle of Lowville, so there isn’t much of an opportunity for me to have a backyard barn. I was lucky enough to be introduced to agriculture and FFA in eighth grade when I took a required introduction to agriculture class.

After reluctantly taking part in a school trip, I quickly learned that the FFA was for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but this amazing organization would help me develop career skills, set me up for success, and lead me to a state office position five years later.

After that initial trip, I decided to try the extemporaneous public speaking competition. In that contest, I presented a four-to-six-minute speech to a few judges about a topic I had been told to write about 30 minutes prior. I ended up placing third in the substate level; had I placed second or first, I would’ve competed at state convention. That accomplishment made me want to explore other contests the FFA has to offer, so I tried the employment skills Career Development Event (CDE), the conduct of chapter meeting CDE, poultry judging, and the milk quality and products CDE.

I ended up being on two different teams that competed at the national FFA convention for both the conduct of chapter meeting CDE and the milk quality and products CDE. As a teenager, I was able to attend events and contests where I met with public officials, ran through numerous mock interviews, learned public speaking techniques, and set myself up for a successful future.

There’s many positives of being in FFA, but one of them is definitely all the connections with large corporations, small local businesses and anything and everything in between.

I have been fortunate to be able to devote my past two
summers to working at the Hopenhagen Lavender Farm in Copenhagen.

Each day, I learn something new; and since I didn’t have prior farm-life knowledge going into my time at Hopenhagen, I had a lot to learn.

Most of the skills I learned in the classroom carried over, but by working in the field my skills have grown — in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.

Sure, weeding in 80-degree heat with 100% humidity aren’t always fun, but the end products make it all worthwhile.

At Hopenhagen, I get to plant, weed, harvest, dry, package, distill, and sell lavender all summer. In the specialty shop, I get to make products using the lavender we harvested. I’ve spent much of my time making candles, soaps, sprays, seasonings, and many other products. This year, we started to distill our dried lavender, so we are now selling lavender essential oil from lavender grown at Hopenhagen.

On my first day at Hopenhagen, it seemed overwhelming, just like my first day in FFA. After time, practice, and hard work, I began to see how agriculture could be a part of my future. Of course, my FFA and agricultural journeys aren’t over, but the path I’ve been on so far is one that has made me realize how important the agriculture industry. Even though my path is unconventional, there will always be a spot for passionate people in agriculture, whether they grow up on a farm or not.

— For comments or suggestions on the Farming in Central New York series of articles, e-mail Daily Sentinel
photojournalist John Clifford at jclifford@RNYmedia.com
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