“As the flag covers the United States of America, so I strive to inform the people in order that every man, woman and child may know that the FFA is a national organization that reaches from the state of Alaska to the Virgin Islands and from the state of Maine to Hawaii.”
– Reporter’s Script, FFA Opening Ceremonies
While the flag may cover all of the FFA chapters across the country, as expressed in the reporter’s script, the diversity of these members is as varied as the agricultural commodities they produce.
An FFA member in Hawaii may work to produce macadamia nuts and harvest algae.
Farmers in Alaska may strive to produce fruits and vegetables year-round in greenhouses and nurseries.
A fisherman in Maine may also double as a blueberry farmer.
A student at the University of the Virgin Islands may be studying the benefits of agritourism on the islands.
When it comes to understanding the diversity of agriculture in the U.S., there is no chapter better versed than the San Luis Obispo FFA in central California. This chapter created the viral social media campaign #AgItFoward in 2014 and has been going strong ever since.
The main purpose of the #AgItForward project is to promote the importance of agriculture in communities throughout the U.S. FFA members can continue to realize the importance of human connections and the value and tradition of paying knowledge forward.
“Amber Bjerre was the student who really spearheaded this program,” says Anna Bates, the San Luis Obispo FFA Chapter advisor. The FFA alumnus, “is now a student at Cornell University, but she was the lead student on this project and worked with our officer team to promote this idea.
“The whole reason we started the #AgItForward campaign in our chapter was to create tangible relationships with FFA members across the country. Followers have been able to learn more about agriculture nationwide and to help our chapter spread agricultural literacy.”
The initiative combines traditional pen pal methods with current trends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Initially, the project started by sending letters out to FFA chapters, including collegiate and alumni chapters, across the country encouraging them to share their stories. The San Luis Obispo FFA Chapter would then post the messages and pictures on social media. The submitting chapter would pass the letter along to another chapter to spread the message and to encourage them to pay it forward.
However, the pace of society and access to technology have changed significantly in the past two years. Today, chapters can submit their thoughts and ideas online directly at agitforward.wixsite.com/goallout. A short 16-question survey allows chapters to share information about community service projects, newly chartered chapters and other unique chapter features, and then to promote them through the #AgItForward campaign on social media.
Life at 41 Below Zero
The initiative has evolved from an individual-to-individual communication effort to a place where chapters can go to find resources and ideas from other chapters.
“Recently, we connected a lot with the Silent Springs FFA Chapter in North Pole, Alaska,” says Bates. “The members wanted to meet new people and learn more about FFA programs across the country. It is a brand-new small home school chapter and is geographically isolated from other communities. Our chapter recently had a Skype session with the chapter members to learn about their community and what FFA looks like for them.”
— Ag It Forward (@agitforward) January 3, 2017
For example, Bates says, the North Pole students shared that the outside temperature was currently 41 below zero, which wasn’t a big deal to them, but it was something the San Luis Obispo students couldn’t even relate to.
Through the platform, FFA members can connect deeper than just liking a photo on Instagram.
“Our students had to imagine what types of SAE programs they would have to participate in, just because of a limiting factor based on the outside air temperature,” Bates said. “The students at Silent Springs couldn’t even raise livestock without a year-round, covered facility to keep them safe. It was fascinating.”
#AgItForward is also a great place for chapter reporters or other officers to submit their stories and to garner publicity for their local programs.
The San Luis Obispo FFA Chapter manages a publicity and technology team to monitor the social media accounts. When a story is submitted, the team crafts the post and tags appropriate stakeholders, such as the state FFA officer team, state agricultural departments and local colleges of agriculture and collegiate FFA chapters.
Collegiate and alumni chapters can also submit their stories to #AgItForward through the website, too.
“There are so many collegiate FFA chapters and agricultural fraternities and sororities online,” says Bates. “#AgItForward is a great place for these organizations to recruit new students and for FFA members to learn about scholarship opportunities and collegiate programs to stay involved in FFA after graduation.”
Through the platform, FFA members can connect deeper than just liking a photo on Instagram. Members are able to identify the similarities and differences between chapters, to see what agricultural commodities are produced in different areas of the country and to figure out what they can learn from one another.
“Every initiative we work on in the San Luis Obispo FFA Chapter is somehow related back to the last line of the FFA motto, ‘Living to Serve’,” Bates says. “We just want to connect with one another and share our stories of community service, outstanding SAE projects, incredible opportunities for chapter engagement and other things that make a difference to FFA members.
“The agricultural industry has such a diverse landscapen and there are so many brilliant ideas and programs across the country. This is a place to collect those ideas and to share them with the world.”
Connect and Learn
Follow #AgItForward to learn more about what agriculture and FFA look like from Alaska to the Virgin Islands and from Maine to Hawaii.