Why FFA is not actually for everybody
This will likely be a controversial post for some. I share this criticism with honor, respect, deep humility and a yearning for equity. I was a state FFA officer and studied agricultural education; my story is wrapped in FFA and the rural Midwest, and these pieces of my life have shaped who I am. If you are someone with a similar story, I hope you will be open to engage with this and sit in the words I share.
I also want to honor those groups of marginalized people who have already shared this sentiment individually, communally or publicly—people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, religious minorities, etc. and those with varying intersecting identities. I am not going to pretend to have the authority to speak on any of this. While I identify as queer, I also identify as cisgender, able-bodied, Christian, white and male. I don't have the right to speak on behalf of anybody other than myself.
FFA is not for everybody.
Really, it is not.
I know FFA is not for gender-queer people because we still hold onto a gendered version of Official Dress.
I know FFA is not for Black people because the New Farmers of America (NFA) did not "merge" with the Future Farmers of America (FFA), it was *absorbed.*
I know FFA is not for people with disabilities because the only time we see them on stage as speakers at National FFA Convention is for "inspiration porn."
I know FFA is not for Latinx people because instead of celebrating their culture and agricultural contribution on Cinco de Mayo, National FFA posts a taco meme on Instagram that says: "I'm into fitness [taco picture] fit'ness whole taco in my mouth." Because associating jokes about tacos with Cinco de Mayo is easier for white people to swallow than admitting our current agriculture labor is built on the backs of black and brown people.
I know FFA is not for people with intersecting identities because there is research indicating black men, Hispanic men and white women hold chapter leadership roles at disproportionate rates compared to black and Hispanic women.
I know FFA is not for women because we celebrate them on International Women's Day and then start asking, "Where are all the men?" the next day.
I know FFA is not about body positivity because the current FFA jacket sizes available means that some students have to special order their jackets and are shamed for their body type.
I know FFA is not for indigenous people because at the Minnesota FFA Convention this year, the Minnesota FFA Foundation approved a commercial that was pro-Line 3, which is harmful to indigenous communities.
I know FFA is not for religious minorities because even while we ask others to "reflect in a way that is comfortable to them," we still open our chapter banquets with a prayer to Jesus Christ from the chaplain and maintain selling chaplain officer pins on the FFA Shop website.
I know FFA is not for all people because the inclusion, equity and diversity task force I was on said, "If we want to do this right, we have to go slow." Because going slow to bring on people with dominant identities is apparently more important than the access and inclusion for people with non-dominant identities.
Let's be honest. No matter how much we talk about all the jobs available in agriculture, food and natural resources, FFA is not actually for everybody.
FFA was built by white men and was made for white men. Just look at FFA leadership across the country, in state FFA association staff, the National FFA Board of Directors, the National FFA Foundation Board of Trustees, the National FFA Foundation Sponsors' Board, the National FFA Foundation Individual Giving Council and the National FFA Alumni Advisory Committee.
I know this seems extreme, but I am not talking about only individuals here; I am talking about an inequitable system. Clearly, we have had people from all of those previously mentioned groups break barriers in agricultural education, but the system has not been made for those people to thrive.
"We don't know any better."
Maybe we don't. That's why it is important we listen. Yet, we somehow are not doing that either.
Brandon Roiger grew up in Sleepy Eye, Minn., and studied agricultural education at the University of Minnesota. He works at UM in agricultural education and he will be attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City this fall to pursue a master’s of divinity degree.