Virginia State FFA officer Madison Sifford shows Hereford cattle at the Virginia State Fair in Doswell; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht.

Nationwide programs like 4-H and FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) are designed to educate and empower the future generation of leaders in agriculture. In addition to offering opportunities for students to learn about subjects like science, veterinary medicine, horticulture, robotics, crop science and biotechnology, these organizations give students the chance to explore a wide range of agricultural interests through hands-on activities such as livestock judging, career internships, service projects and more.

While these groups are vital to the education of the future agricultural workforce, they also provide invaluable skills to anyone and everyone impacted by the industry. From clothing and medicine production to building homes and putting food on the table, agriculture touches every member of society.

Virginia State FFA officers Carly Carpenter, right, talks LaVeta Nutter while helping with an FFA competition at the Virginia State Fair in Doswell; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

How FFA Has Impacted This Virginia Student

Carly Carpenter is a state FFA officer in Virginia with a passion for agriculture and a love for the organization she serves and the values it has taught her over the years.

“I’ve been involved in FFA since I was in sixth grade,” Carpenter says. “My dad and brother were in the organization, and they talked a lot about how much fun they had at various FFA events over the years. After hearing about their experiences, I knew that I wanted to be a member too.”

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Carpenter grew up on a small goat farm, so agriculture was always at the forefront of her mind – at least as an interest, if not as a career. She says she knew joining FFA would give her a chance to learn more about the industry and make new friends along the way.

Virginia youth programs

Sedona Sifford, 8, shows Hereford cattle at the Virginia State Fair in Doswell; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht.

While her time in FFA certainly met her expectations, it also opened up some interesting new doors. Carpenter’s role as a state officer has allowed her to travel around the state working with other FFA chapters and to connect with people from different communities across the Commonwealth.

“We usually conduct some form of a leadership workshop when we travel, which gives us the chance to meet other members in the organization,” she says. “Traveling with the program means I’m away from home a lot, but FFA has become a second home for me. I know I’m going to cherish these memories and connections for the rest of my life.”

See more: Virginia’s Small Farm Outreach Program Helps Beginning Farmers

Instilling Valuable Life Lessons

These organizations are giving kids the information and experience they need to make informed decisions about their future careers, but they’re also helping them learn valuable life skills that apply on and off the farm.

“One major lesson that FFA has taught me has been public speaking,” Carpenter says. “I’ve been able to step outside my comfort zone and face that fear, whether at chapter banquets, contests or meetings. Now I love public speaking, and I want to channel that passion into a career in agricultural policy. I’m hoping to pursue a profession as an agricultural lobbyist or work with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.”

Virginia youth programs

Hannah Cox shows Black Angus cattle at the Virginia State Fair in Doswell; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

Something for Everyone

It’s a common misconception that programs like 4-H and FFA are only for people who grew up in production agriculture, but Carpenter couldn’t disagree more, saying these organizations have something to offer students from every walk of life.

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“These programs are so important to young people because they teach a variety of life skills while exposing you to the diverse world of agriculture,” she says. “As our global population continues to grow, we’re going to need more people in the industry to come up with solutions to things like feeding the world, and 4-H and FFA do an excellent job of preparing the next group of leaders to do just that.”


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