The power of the blue corduroy jacket and its impact on FFA members

Sally Ladsten
Sally Albers Ladsten, shown as the Wisconsin 2015-16 State Officer Team President, says FFA has led her on a variety of adventures starting as a member of the Sauk Prairie FFA and now as the State FFA Advisor.

With the 93rd Wisconsin FFA Convention right around the corner - it provides a great opportunity to reflect on the role the National FFA Organization plays in students’ lives.

Through my own life, FFA has led me on a variety of adventures starting as a member and officer of the Sauk Prairie FFA chapter, to being a State Vice President and State President traveling the state representing members across Wisconsin, and rounding out my experience as a member serving on the National FFA Officer Nominating Committee to help select the next national officer team. 

Following my time as a member, I have been able to shift my lens of the organization working as an Agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor at Sauk Prairie, and finally now as the State FFA Advisor. Throughout this experience, I was able to see the power of the blue corduroy jacket and the impact it had on my own life, but more importantly the impact it has had on countless members across the state.

FFA provides opportunities for students to break out of their shell and find their place within the agriculture industry and as leaders. Through Leadership Development Events such as the Prepared Speaking contests students are able to develop their communication skills in order to present information to judges. 

Other career-ready skills are developed through activities such as Leadership Conferences, judging contests, and chapter level activities such as Day on the Farm. Each of these opportunities require students to demonstrate and grow their leadership abilities, and often older members provide guidance to younger members demonstrating the true student-led nature of the organization.

FFA is available to students as a part of agricultural education. FFA is one of the three components needed for a well-rounded agricultural education experience, the other two components are classroom instruction and hands-on learning projects called Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs). The State FFA Convention offers an opportunity to recognize students for their accomplishments in FFA, and also award the State FFA Degree (Formerly known as the State  to members who have been actively involved in all three components of Agricultural Education.

In order to qualify for the State FFA Degree members must have completed 360 hours of agricultural education, earned and productively invested $1500 or worked 1000 hours in their SAE, and obtained the Greenhand and Chapter FFA Degrees along with a variety of other requirements.

Members who excel in their SAEs may choose to apply for a Star Award.  There are four categories of Star Awards - Star Farmer (own their own production agriculture operation), Star in Agricultural Placement (work for an agricultural business), Star in Agriscience (conduct research related to the agriculture industry, and Star in Agribusiness (run their own agricultural business).

The announcement of the State Star awards are one of my favorite parts of the State FFA Convention. Star contestants have put in countless hours of hard work into their projects, and have exemplified what it means to be involved in Agricultural Education. I remember watching the highlight videos of Star Candidates when I was a member, and being so inspired by the projects, and motivated to expand my own SAE project. 

Sally Ladsten

As an advisor, I found these candidates awe inspiring - some of them being so successful in their projects it was unbelievable the heights they had reached. Can you imagine being a recent graduate and owning your own successful honey bee business?  Or what about researching how to protect local lakeshores from erosion? These are just a couple of the SAE projects that helped candidates win their respective State Star awards!  

While seeing the winners at the convention is truly inspiring, I also enjoy thinking about all of the students who are not winning this year. You see for every member who wins at state convention, there are several others who worked their hardest to try and reach new heights too. 

There are others who tried something new only to learn to fail forward and try again, or who are just getting started and are finding their place in the organization. There’s a freshman who didn’t win the sectional creed speaking contest, but by simply competing they presented their first ever public speech. There’s a junior who started a job at the local butcher shop, who may not have a state winning project, but who has found their calling for a future career. There’s a senior who got involved in FFA just a year prior, but who’s learned so much about being a leader, and has helped the underclassmen navigate the convention like a pro.

For each of these scenarios there are hundreds more. And these are the stories that showcase just how impactful FFA can be for students. You don’t have to be a state winner to have grown as a speaker, researcher, leader, friend, and so much more. You simply have to put on a blue jacket and take in every opportunity that comes your way.  

This year’s state theme is “The Time is Now” and I can’t think of a better way to explain what all members have available to them. The Time is Now to take a chance and try something new. The Time is Now to grow an SAE in hours, equipment, or animals. The Time is Now to give back to a local community in need. The Time is Now to make an impact on the people around you, and inspire others to do the same. 

I hope everyone can join me in celebrating with Wisconsin FFA members as we recognize their countless successes throughout the year, and also take time to recognize the countless other FFA members who have also grown tremendously this year. The Time is Now to recognize the impact FFA has on students each and every day - winner or not.