CP editorial: Youth organizations should work together, focus on synergy

I believe in the ability of 4-H and FFA to encourage young people to use their hands, heads, hearts, and health to improve the future of agriculture. I believe in their ability to affect millions of young lives because they have been doing just that for years. However, there is always a way to make the best better.

The relationship between 4-H and FFA is important because it directly affects the current perception and the future direction of the agriculture industry. Marshall Stewart, vice chancellor for Extension and Engagement at MU is one of only a few individuals to have a career in both State 4-H and National FFA. He explains that we would not be having a conversation around the relationship between 4-H and Girl Scouts or FFA and FBLA, but we compare 4-H and FFA because these two organizations have a common goal: to better the future of our food and fiber production.

“What we need to do is build a big tent where all the people that are producing food can sit under, unfortunately sometimes that can’t happen,” Stewart said. “I think that is where 4-H and FFA can play a role, because young people have been the ones that have really set the tone of this country for change in the past.”

Young agriculturalists will only be able to accomplish the daunting task of feeding the world while also educating consumers through the collaboration of 4-H and FFA.

Paxton Dahmer, Missouri FFA Association president, said that students often feel pressured to choose, when instead they should be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities both organizations can provide. He believes his experiences in 4-H gave him a head start in the FFA world in both leadership and knowledge. Ashlyn Peterson, State 4-H president, agrees with Dahmer.

“Students often feel as though they have to choose between activities, and since they’ve been in 4-H since they were younger it often times gets voted off the island and replaced with FFA,” Peterson said. “The mindset common among these students is that FFA is the next step, when in fact the two organizations work hand in hand.”

Marissa Surber, past Chillicothe FFA Chapter President, used the potential of both organizations to package and donate 50,000 meals. The FFA members provided labor, finances, and leadership, while 4-H members provided helping hands and enthusiasm. By taking advantage of the unique strengths of both organizations, Surber was able to make a dramatic impact on her community. Without both organizations’ contributions, Meals of Hope would not have been possible.

However, these two organizations do not always work hand in hand. While Hannah Persell, Missouri 4-H Foundation trustee, was at the FFA Washington Leadership Conference, a facilitator made a comment about “dirty 4-Hers” in front of hundreds of FFA members. Persell believes that this attitude comes from a misunderstanding of the opportunities available in 4-H.

“The only time there are negative experiences between 4-H and FFA is when a loyalty to one organization over the other gets in the way of morale and enthusiasm,” said Meredith Oesch, 4-H state representative and Chillicothe FFA vice president.

Looking towards the future, Surber gives her insight into how members can bridge the gap.

“I think the youth can facilitate a positive relationship between the organizations simply by having the 4-H and FFA rely on each other to provide their unique strengths in many more events and situations similar to the Meals of Hope project. If the two organizations work together, it’s obvious the potential for them to do great things grows substantially,” she says.

It is important for students to understand the benefits of participating in both FFA and 4-H. By using the major strengths of both organizations, members could have more opportunities, be better prepared for their careers, and change the public perception of agriculture as a whole. The future of agriculture relies on the ability of FFA and 4-H to use their strengths to provide students with the opportunity to reach their fullest potentials.

“To me it’s not about choosing green and white or blue and gold, it’s about how you can bring them together to do what is best for the young person,” Stewart said.

With this attitude, 4-H and FFA members and leaders can make the best better for the future of agriculture for years to come.