The alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. A little girl jumps out of bed and rushes to do her farm chores. The herd of Holstein cows need to be fed and milked. Hay fields are ready for first cutting. It’s going to be a busy day for Leann Jordan…on her imaginary dairy farm.
“Yes, I used to do fake farm chores, which I realize sounds really weird,” laughed Leann Jordan.
It actually makes perfect sense, when you consider that Leann grew up in Troupsburg, New York, a rural town in the Southern Tier. She didn’t come from a farm family, but all of her friends and neighbors did.
Finally, Leann got a chance to work on a real farm thanks to her high school agriculture teacher. He invited her to raise a beef cow on his farm, which she showed at the county fair.
He also introduced Leann to FFA. Formerly known as Future Farmers of America, FFA is a nationwide organization that prepares students for leadership and success in their future careers.
“I was hooked. I loved being around farm animals and the people who work with them. Being part of the agriculture world became my lifelong dream,” explained Leann.
Now, Leann isn’t just a member of a farming community – she’s a leader.
And she credits FFA for providing a path to where she is today: an agriculture teacher at Tully High School, just south of Syracuse. Together with Tully H.S. Principal Mary Ann Murphy and fellow ag educator Rachel Bennett, Leann runs the Tully FFA Chapter and works with over 70 students.
In just two years of teaching, Leann is already experiencing success she could have only dreamed of all those years ago on her “imaginary dairy.” Tully FFA was just named the 2019 New York State FFA Chapter of the Year.
From Curiosity to Career: The National FFA Organization
Founded in 1928 by a group of young farmers, FFA is an “intracurricular” student organization. FFA chapters in high schools like Tully High School give students a complete agriculture education, starting in 7th grade. All Tully H.S. students take a mandatory consumer agriculture class in 7th or 8th grade, where they learn about where their food comes from.
“It surprised me how many students come from similar backgrounds to mine. Most aren’t from farm families. They know there’s a farm down the road, and they’re curious. FFA helps them create a tangible connection to agriculture. For a lot of students, that first consumer ag class sparks a real interest in farming,” explained Leann.
After the initial class, many students continue to pursue studies in agriculture at Tully H.S. They can take classes in animal science, horticulture science (there’s an on-site greenhouse), and agri-science – and earn college credits along the way. There’s also a course in ag mechanics.
After going through the Tully FFA program, what’s next for graduates? Many go on to college. Others take jobs on farms right away: from dairy farms here in Central New York, to largescale grain operations in the Midwest. Leann explained that a lot of her current students are exploring career opportunities in agriculture technology. Right now, two students are shadowing veterinarians.
It’s clear that Tully FFA is empowering students to turn their curiosity about farming into a fulfilling career. That’s ultimately the mission of the National FFA Organization. FFA is based on a three-component model that combines classroom/laboratory learning, hands-on experiences, and leadership/career growth. The FFA motto is:
Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, and Living to Serve.
“We truly live out that motto. Our students are passionate about agriculture – and ‘walk the talk’ by getting involved in the community,” added Leann.
The Future of Farming in Onondaga County Looks Bright
At the end of March 2019, Leann got an email that contained a big secret…one she had to keep from her students for two months:
“I found out our Tully FFA chapter was going to be named the 2019 New York State FFA Chapter of the Year at the state convention in May. We were also going to receive 5 other awards. I was shocked.”
She shouldn’t have been surprised.
The New York State FFA evaluates each chapter on the strength of their programming: what events are planned for FFA chapter members, and the community as a whole.
“As one of our programs, the students created a day camp for pre-k through 5-year-old children that was held in a nearby park. They did everything: planned the activities, made t-shirts, advertised the day camp, and took on the role of camp counselor,” said Leann.
So, when did the Tully FFA students find out they were #1 in New York State?
“…it was at the convention! Our students were already in high spirits after being called to the stage to receive other awards. But when the announcement was made, all 27 students stood up and cheered. They were so proud. I was so proud. It was surreal. That single moment was worth all the extra hours I’d put in over the past year,” recalled Leann.
Leann is excited to see where her students end up: she expects many of them to continue contributing to agriculture in the Central New York area. She is also proud to be part of the Tully FFA legacy…which has been going strong at Tully H.S. since the 1940s, when students first became active in FFA.
Poise, Presence, and Pride: What it Means to Wear the FFA Jacket
All FFA members are able to wear an official jacket.
Emblazoned with the member’s name on the front, and the chapter name and national logo on the back, the navy and gold jacket is worn with pride. Members often say they feel honored to be an “ambassador” for agriculture – and the jacket makes it more official.
“When the students arrived to be honored by the Onondaga County legislature at the county building, their jaws dropped. They were surrounded by dignitaries. But then they immediately took on a professional posture, and stood up straighter,” said Leann.
However, Leann explains that her students are really 24/7 advocates for agriculture:
“Once they learn about ag issues, they can get pretty fired up. This year, a lot of them were angry at how much work dairy farmers put in, only to see milk priced at under $3 a gallon. Part of the FFA curriculum involves ag communication and public speaking: how can we educate others about agriculture in an effective way? They’re learning how to do that.”
Students often hold mock debates, where they take on the role of someone with an opposing view point. Someone passionate about the dairy industry might roleplay as a vegan. To Leann, it’s essential that students learn how to respectfully listen to the other side, then communicate their thoughts without attacking.
“Agriculture is always in the spotlight, and I feel confident that Tully FFA members have the poise and presence to represent the agricultural community – whether it’s in everyday conversation, or talking to news media,” added Leann.
With Leann as their role model, it’s clear that each student who goes through the Tully FFA program will be the best possible ambassador for agriculture in Central New York.