Polk County FFA president: Program not just for farmers

Tana Harris

As part of National FFA Week, Polk County FFA President Tana Harris penned an essay sharing her thoughts on FFA.

In celebration of National FFA Week and the 50th Anniversary of women gaining membership to the club, I would like to send out a special thanks to the Polk County High School FFA. The organization that allowed me to find who I am – a team player, plant enthusiast, and above all, a leader.

My initial hesitation to the FFA came forth as a result of one classic, devastating, stereotype that all club members are destined to become a farmer. Although I have been raised in the woods of Saluda working in our annual summer garden, I never held the desire to own or work on an actual farm. Yet, the moment I learned early my freshman year that the FFA was not strictly for “future farmers” and I didn’t have to be a “redneck” to join, I made the monumental decision to become a member of the club.

One point I would like to go ahead and stress is that the FFA is for everyone. Whether you’re planning to go into a STEM career (like myself), become an entrepreneur, doctor, business owner, or most importantly enter the field of agriculture, the FFA is where you belong.

The national organization is dedicated to promoting “premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education”, which has been a major factor in forming the person I am today.

Taking my first agriculture class, Animal Science I, I was introduced to the world of agriculture that I had never been exposed to before. Although Mrs. Gilbert had been out on maternity leave for most of the semester, the moment she returned our entire class was taught the value of respect through her minuscule tolerance for rowdy behavior, plus her loving compassion and dedication to the cows and goats on the school farm, which instilled me to hold a level of respect for their wellbeing.

Going on to take Horticulture with Mr. Barber my spring semester turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only did that lead me into falling in love with the study of plants and wanting to pursue plant research in my future career, but opened up numerous opportunities to my life. That spring, I was able to participate in a CDE (career development event) held at the FFA Regional Rally. There my Intro to Horticulture team got to compete together by taking written tests and identifying plant species. The experience of getting to work with a team and encourage each other has been one of my favorite repeating themes in my years of being in the FFA.

This idea of working as a team has appeared twice more- the first time being when I had the chance to go to FFA Camp. There, members of the Polk FFA chapter were broken into groups to work together and compete in various sports, games, and inevitably a talent show, against other FFA chapters across the state. Being at camp taught me the value of unifying team members to work as one, and gave me my first taste of leadership when I was deemed as a team captain. A week’s worth of activities with my fellow members also helped build a sense of family among all of us, forming an unexpected bond between people will all different sorts of interests.

My second experience of working with a team through the FFA came about my sophomore year, when I became an FFA officer, and again this year when I was chosen to be our club’s president. Working with my fellow officers to make things happen for our club is not always the easiest, but because of the work ethic and responsibility we have learned from being apart of the FFA, we are able to come together and do great things for our club, school, and community.

As an officer, I have learned how much the club values the ability to give back to the community. Being able to participate in events with the FFA such as volunteering at the State Fair, holding “Halloween at the Farm” for community kids, and giving time to clean up the Thermal Belt facility taught me the value of helping those who need it. This year, being president of the club, I was able to help exercise those ideals when Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast. With the help of Mr. Barber, Mrs. Gilbert, and my other fellow officers, we were able to get a schoolwide hurricane drive off the ground to send food and supplies to eastern counties of our state.

Along with character development, taking Ag. classes and being a part of the FFA has taught me various other real-life skills that you just don’t learn in a typical classroom setting. For example, public speaking. Being forced to get out of my shell and recite the all too famous creed in front of the entire class, or having to write a speech about myself and topics I am interested in allowed me to become a better speaker and built my confidence. I have also been given valuable experiences, such as working our annual plant sale where I was able to help out customers and work with money. This along with being an officer has taught me responsibility.

Being a leader among my fellow friends and FFA members has been one of the biggest challenges and lessons that I have been taught through these years of high school. First off, it has been empowering to have the confidence of Mr. Barber and Mrs. Gilbert, two adults I have come to immensely respect, to believe in me that I can lead and work with other officers to get the job done. Although I may appear calm and collected, I still run into challenges, mix-ups, and days that I can barely keep myself together thanks to the stress of sports, taking three AP’s, and participating in student council, all while balancing my life as an active FFA President. But even though it seems like everything can pile up at once, I can always count on my fellow officers to be assertive and helpful when the going gets rough. That’s why I am thankful for all of the experiences, great memories, and lessons I have learned about responsibility, dedication, and teamwork- all of which have been brought into my life by the FFA.