October 19, 2021

FFA Corner: Make each person we meet feel valued

How do you measure the value of an interaction? Maybe it’s by how much time you spent with someone, how likely they are to help you in your future or how famous a person is. My travels this summer have made me think differently about this question.

Filing in a grain scale office in western Kansas, the first stop of a field day farm tour, I felt a bit out of place among the group of farmers and ag business people.

As often the youngest person in a room like this, I never know what people think of me. And while I am personally fascinated by farming and grew up going to field days, I was there as an FFA officer to give a keynote.

I scanned the room as the elevator manager explained the technology throughout the grain system on the farm, looking for whom I might start a conversation with as we walked to the next portion of the tour. I hoped if I made at least one friend this morning, I’d look more like I belonged here.

In a sea of Kansans, I spotted a Texas name tag. Deciding that would be a good conversation starter, I introduced myself to this older farmer as the group moved toward the bins across the driveway.

After less than a minute of chatting, we realized that we grew up less than 45 miles away from each other. He graduated from a rival football school several decades before, when my home high school of Earlville still had a football team.

The odds of an Illinoisan meeting a Texan who was born an Illinoisan while both are in Kansas? Pretty slim.

As I learned more about Mr. Awe’s career path and love for agriculture, it became clear to me that this was precisely the farmer I was meant to talk to that day. He had experience in one of my fields of interest, farm management.

Walking across the gravel driveways of the farm, from grain bins to chemical storage to the shop, we went back and forth about the current state of beef and pork supply chains and what the future looks like for the livestock industry.

As I shared stories of the value of tradition to both the FFA and the agriculture industry in my keynote at the end of the day, my new farmer friend’s presence in the audience helped me have the confidence I needed to speak to a room full of people much further along in their journeys.

His wisdom shared throughout the morning has stuck with me as I continue to hone in on my own career goals. While I first met Mr. Awe simply with the goal of not looking alone and out of place in a group of strangers, I left Kansas that afternoon with a new friend and a new way to think about interactions with others.

So, how do you measure the value of an interaction? I don’t think it’s the right question. The better question is this: how can we add the most value to other people through our interactions?

Instead of deciding who will be the most advantageous person in the room to talk to, what if we simply made the most of whatever interaction we have?

Mr. Awe could have considered talking to me a waste of time; I can’t sell him land or buy his cattle. Instead, he chose to make my time at that field day more meaningful than simply being one more participant.

Some people we see every day. Others we may see briefly now and then. Yet others, we may only encounter once in our lifetimes.

Let’s make each of those people feel valued.

Miriam Hoffman of Earlville, Illinois, is the National FFA eastern region vice president. She is an agribusiness economics major at Southern Illinois University.