Is FFA for everybody? Yes. We need to make sure of it.
In recent weeks, Agweek has run an opinion piece from Brandon Roiger, a former FFA member addressing what he sees as shortcomings in the organization's efforts toward diversity and inclusivity, as well as an interview in response from National FFA President Luke O'Leary, who believes that FFA is "for everyone" while acknowledging there always is room for improvement.
The pieces have sparked conversation, as well as criticism. There are, among our readers and viewers, people who believe we shouldn't run anything negative about an organization as integral to agriculture as FFA, as well as people who were pleased to see an opening to discuss something close to their hearts.
We firmly believe that there is room in FFA for everyone. But we also believe that it doesn't hurt to discuss ways to make a great organization even greater.
Within the 669,989 FFA members, aged, 12-21, across the 8,630 chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, there will be differences. Excellence in agriculture won't look the same to all. According to the 2017 National FFA Foundation Annual Report, 65% of FFA members that year were white, 11.5% were Hispanic, 3.9% were black, 6.1% were listed as "other" and 13.5% did not disclose a racial identity. The membership was 55% male and 45% female. Those statistics don't address all areas of diversity, but they do show a membership that is not entirely homogeneous.
In fact, FFA says its gaining membership in some highly urban areas where production agriculture is far from the norm - a sure sign that the organization is diversifying beyond its traditional "farm kid" base.
Most of our readers and viewers are in the Upper Midwest. Most of us would be considered to be in majority categories when it comes to various diversity statistics. That does not mean our opinions on diversity and inclusivity are invalid, but it does mean we need to be cautious about making sure we are truly listening and taking into account the opinions of those who are in minority categories. We cannot presume to know what would make FFA - or other segments of agriculture - more hospitable to those in minority groups.
Change and actions can create better policies and programs for all in FFA when voices speak out and push for a better, stronger organization. We're watching that unfold. Those changes may not be comfortable for all, but we already see it in local chapters, state organizations and at the national level.
Agriculture does not look the same as it did 50 years ago, and neither does FFA. On our individual farms and ranches, we continue to look for ways to improve, even during times of success. FFA must do the same.
As O'Leary told AgweekTV's Rose Dunn, "FFA can be for everyone."
"I do believe that we have the right intentions and that we're doing our best to include everybody of all backgrounds, of all race, gender, sexual orientation. Whoever someone is, wherever they come from, they can find a home in FFA," he said.
FFA is evolving without taking away from the strengths and values the organization already delivers to hundreds of thousands of members annually.
We believe in the future of agriculture because agriculture is for everybody, and FFA is for everybody. The future of agriculture is stronger and more vibrant than today's agriculture because of the diversity, reach and breadth of FFA.