December 10, 2023

FFA Corner: FFA officers teach about ag at Illinois state fairs

Though summer quickly came to an end, the Illinois FFA Major State Officer Team has continued to put its leadership abilities to the test.

At the annual Illinois State Fair from Aug. 11-21 in Springfield, the state officers carried on the tradition of working the FFA Barnyard.

In a small metal building across from the racetrack on Grandstand Avenue, fairgoers strolled through the barnyard from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to pet the baby animals, featuring piglets, rabbits, a calf, goats and sheep.

The five majors each worked seven days over the course of the fair, while the section presidents each took three-day shifts.

“Working there was a lot of fun,” said Derek Sample, state vice president. “I got to meet a lot of different people from the public and expose some people to agriculture.”

The fair is regarded as one of the top physical and mental challenges for the state officers each year because of the nonstop bustle and the demands of the barnyard. Some of these duties include keeping the pens clean, feeding and watering the animals, sweeping the barnyard, overseeing the donation jug and constantly interacting with the public.

The responsibilities continued beyond closing time, as the male officers stayed overnight in the barnyard to watch over the animals.

“It was very dusty out at the fairgrounds and we just kept breathing that in,” Sample noted. “Other than that, I’d say it was overall a positive experience and I really enjoyed getting to talk to all the different people that came through.”

On Aug. 11, the majors began by assisting with the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the main gate. They then joined the section presidents and some nearby section officers to appear in the annual State Fair parade alongside Illinois Director of Agriculture Jerry Costello II.

Twice a day, section presidents guided tours throughout the fairgrounds, educating the public on Illinois agriculture and the agricultural commodities and opportunities present at the year’s fair.

On Aug. 16, Ag Day at the State Fair, the major state officers and four section presidents assisted in serving the breakfast to all the centennial, sesquicentennial and bicentennial family farms, as well as leading the pledge of allegiance.

They then attended roundtables to learn more about pressing topics in agriculture, including the state of the 2023 farm bill.

At the 2022 Governor’s Sale of Champions, the Grand Champion Steer sold for $105,000, matching last year’s record total.

This year, the Illinois FFA Foundation raised over $1,600 in donations at the barnyard. This money will go straight to supporting the Illinois FFA members, officers, advisers, events and awards.

National FFA sent facilitator Maegan Meredith back to Springfield for three days following the Illinois State Fair.

During their time together, Meredith worked with the majors on developing workshops, facilitation techniques and preparing for upcoming chapter visits. She will return to Illinois for another checkpoint with the officers in December.

The state officer team made appearances at the Du Quoin State Fair, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.

On Aug. 26, three majors and several southern section officers marched in the annual Twilight Parade. State Reporter Levi Maierhofer, State Secretary Haley Bode and Sample, were fortunate enough to once again take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the grandstand.

That following Monday, 38 schools met at the fairgrounds to compete in the Farmyard Follies, a series of farm-based competitions that tested several aspects of a person’s mental and physical strength.

Competitions included a spinny-bat race, water-balloon toss, bale stacking, bale throwing, a back-seat driver course and a tug-of-war tournament. Teams scored points based on the results in each event.

After the final results were tallied, the Thompsonville FFA Chapter came away with the championship trophy.

The major state officer team recently finished their STAR Conferences, where they traveled to each of the five FFA districts to train section officers for their year of service. At these conferences, the day started with the traditional opening ceremonies of officers, before moving into activities geared toward meeting the other officers.

Then, the section officers got to know their major state officers better with a Kahoot trivia game and were versed in the workshop that they will help facilitate during chapter visits.

The major state officers trained the section officers on how to properly facilitate a workshop, covering topics such as facilitator levels, inclusive language, mirroring and processing questions. After lunch, the officers tested their new skills by leading their own workshop for the other conference attendees.

“STAR Conferences were extremely successful this year,” said State Treasurer Kate Colgan. “This was my team’s first real opportunity to have that one-on-one interaction with young leaders within the organization and it was great to see them learn throughout the day and we are super excited for them to put their skills to the test.”

The next, most influential step for the state officers is traveling to each FFA chapter in Illinois for chapter visits. During these six weeks, the officers split up and spend a week in each section, leading a workshop at multiple schools each day during ag classes.

These workshops will teach FFA members to value other people’s perspectives, reflect on their own core values and set short-, mid- and long-term goals.

The officers also generally facilitate a workshop and provide a keynote address at each section’s Leadership Training School. This event brings together members from across a section to develop their leadership skills and spark further interest in FFA events.

After four weeks of chapter visits, the majors will take a month break to prepare for and attend the 95th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, which takes place Oct. 26-29.

Levi Maierhofer from the Seneca FFA Chapter is the 2022-2023 Illinois Association FFA state reporter.