The FFA may not just be for farmers anymore, but it's still very much about the future.
Case in point: Jason Troendle, a senior at St. Charles High School and the newly elected Minnesota State FFA President.
"It's more than plows, sows and cows," Troendle said. Most FFA members, he said, "aren't from farms and don't plan on farming."
Troendle, 18, is very much part of the new image of the youth organization known for generations as the "Future Farmers of America" - officially changed to "The National FFA Organization" in 1988.
"(My family) doesn't have a farm," he said, "I don't intend to be a farmer."
Still, Troendle has been involved with FFA since he was an eighth-grader and will continue with the organization at least through his first year of college.
The organization, he said, was founded to promote youth in agriculture, and today agriculture touches on virtually every interest and career - and contemporary FFA programs and activities reflect that.
Troendle points to his own involvement with FFA as an example. As an eighth-grader, he learned that a canoe trip through the Boundary Waters was an activity of the local FFA chapter. "I absolutely love to fish," he said.
Once hooked, he not only pursued interests in fish and wildlife and natural resource management, but saw his interests broaden and deepen.
FFA, he said, provides a structured path for developing leadership skills for students who want to take advantage of it.
Taking a leadership role in the organization seemed a natural thing to do, he said. His father, Fred Troendle, had been an ag instructor and was state FFA officer in 1983 and 1984. From his freshman year, Troendle took leadership positions in the St. Charles chapter, serving as chapter president during his junior year, moving on to be Region 8 vice president as a senior.
His selection as state president followed a two-day interview during the FFA state convention in April. The candidates for state office met repeatedly with members of an 11-person interview committee in one-on-one interviews, group discussions and impromptu presentations.
"He has made a name for himself," Willie Lubahn, Jason's high school ag teacher and FFA advisor, said. "He's done what he had to do."
In the coming year, there will be a great deal more for Troendle to do. Over the summer, he will help organize and participate in leadership camps for FFA members from across the state. During the school year, state officers regularly visit local chapters, plan and organize the annual state convention and meet with representatives of agribusiness firms, producer groups and ag educators - all to be fit around his schedule as a freshman at Bethel University in the Twin Cities, where he plans to major in economics and environmental studies.
In return, he will collect mileage and expenses for his work on behalf of the FFA - all officers are volunteer positions. "Knowledge, contacts, personal development ... that's my payoff," Troendle said.
Troendle's accomplishments highlight the value of ag education, Lubahn said. He said that of the students involved in the ag program at St. Charles High, about half aspire to careers in agriculture, but the emphasis on the practical, the hands-on that is central to ag education serves all students well.
"It wouldn't hurt to have every student take an ag class," Lubahn said. "We are all addicted to eating food," he said, but as fewer and fewer people are involved in production agriculture people have become less and less connected with where our food comes from and what goes into producing it.
"Agriculture makes up a wide swath of our economy," Troendle said, "FFA opens the door to a wide swath of kids."