SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Over 1,000 FFA members were at the Statehouse during the 50th annual Illinois Agricultural Legislative Day to stress with legislators the importance of supporting ag education.
Illinois FFA President Gage Miller, Cambridge, kicked off the day of lobbying and delivering lunches and baskets with Illinois-produced products to lawmakers as one of the guest speakers at a gathering of representatives from nearly 50 agriculture-related groups.
Prior to Miller’s introduction, Jerry Costello II, Illinois Department of Agriculture acting director and former state representative, gave some perspective to the FFA members of what the day means for legislators.
“You all have no idea of the impact of 800 to 1,000 blue jackets walking through the Capitol has and as someone who has had to deal with a number of lobbyists over the years as all of the legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor do, having a young man or woman sit down in front of you, look you in the eye and explain to you how important farming is to this state, how important the next generation is to this state and to have them speak clearly, articulately, it’s an amazing thing,” Costello said.
“As a legislator most of the time you’re trying to get lobbyists in and out of your office in maybe 10 minutes if not less. But almost invariably a legislator will be willing to spend 15, 20, 30 minutes with four or five FFA students or 4-H students.
“So, do not in any way minimize what you’re doing here today. You are truly having probably the most profound impact on agriculture than anybody lobbying for the industry can have.”
Miller said that while the 1,000 blue corduroy FFA jackets were very noticeable, the second feature of note is the emblem on the back of the jackets that represents the core values and beliefs of Illinois agricultural education.
He went on to describe the five items featured in the emblem and their meaning, starting with the cross-section of an ear of corn that represents unity.
“Corn is grown in all 50 states and is one of Illinois’ top commodities. While corn can be looked at as just a simple crop growing in a farmer’s field, it also represents why we all should be unified supporting our state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture. Just like corn, agriculture can be found throughout our entire state. Consequently, one out of every four careers in the state is related to agriculture,” Miller said.
The plow in the emblem represents labor and tillage of the soil.
“When I think about labor I think about my personal experience in the agriculture classroom. Because of the funding grant provided through the ag line item, my classroom experiences were derived with hands-on learning opportunities. From working in a new greenhouse in horticulture, dissection labs for animal science, or using state-of-the-art welders in ag mechanics, these experiences showcase the diverse perspectives and career opportunities in the classroom,” Miller said.
He added that students enrolled in an agriculture class have the opportunity to participate in the work-based learning activity — Supervised Agricultural Experience.
“These young entrepreneurs brought in a total of $12,205,787 in the last year,” Miller said.
The rising sun on the emblem signifies progress, and just as agriculture continues to progress through new technologies and by responding to consumer demand, so must the National FFA organization and its members.
“Just this last year we reached record-breaking membership of 19,099 members and those members don’t just come from a farm background. The demographics of our organization have changed greatly since its founding in 1928. Today, 91% of our members come from a city, town or other non-farm setting,” Miller said.
The owl in the emblem represents the knowledge and wisdom the teachers provide in the classroom to help students achieve success.
Miller noted Illinois’ Three Circles Grant program is a line item in the state’s budget that compensates agriculture teachers by providing funds for 400 paid hours on the top of the normal nine-month teacher contract.
“When teachers receive the appropriate pay they deserve, not only will this encourage them to be the best teacher they can possibly be, but also encourages new teachers into this profession,” he said.
It’s only fitting that the eagle also be included on the emblem. The national symbol serves as a reminder of the nation’s freedom to explore new horizons for the future of agriculture.
“Whether you think of religion, the Second Amendment, or showing of gratitude to those who serve our country, freedom can mean a lot of different things. As citizens, we have the freedom of electing our government officials who work hard to make things happen for or great state,” Miller said.
“We know that agriculture would not be where it is at today without their support of our freedoms. Legislators are constantly asked to invest and I hope after today they will see the importance of investing in the future leaders of agricultural education.
“These symbols within the emblem are so powerful when they’re alone and when they’re together they truly represent who we are as an organization.
“I am confident that Illinois will remain true to its roots and investing in agricultural education and the agriculture industry and for that we cannot thank you all enough.”