Agricultural education offers much more than just hands-on experience raising show animals. The National FFA Organization is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. FFA helps participants set their course for success beyond the classroom and the show ring.
Navarre family descendant Carson Capps just completed his term as a state officer with the Oklahoma FFA. As one of eight state officers, he represented the interests of more than 28,000 FFA members across the state while attending Byng High School in Byng, Oklahoma.
He’s grateful for the chance to have connected with Oklahoma chapter members, honed his networking skills and shared ideas with others who are passionate about agriculture. The Oklahoma State University freshman said he continually meets friends from FFA while attending OSU.
“Going from Byng High School to Oklahoma State, a huge campus, it could be a little intimidating, but just having that group of friends coming in that I knew, really helped that transition,” he said.
Sharing leadership skills
State officers stay busy year-round with events, training and education. Newly elected officers receive their training in May. During the summer, FFA Alumni Leadership Camp consists of four sessions, each four days long and with about 400 campers attending. Every morning, the officers perform a flag-raising ceremony and educate campers about the flag in American history. The groups break into smaller sessions of about 10-15 members, and a state FFA officer leads the discussion.
As school starts, state officers prepare for the Chapter Officer Leadership Training. State officers help train the individual chapter officers and prepare them to lead their local chapters. They also assist in the creation of an educational program for each of the five Oklahoma regions.
“This year, our theme for that was ‘leading up,’ meaning that no matter what position you’re in, you can still have a leadership role,” Capps said.
In October, the national FFA convention got underway in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was Capps’ first opportunity to attend the national convention.
“As an official FFA delegate to the National FFA Organization for Oklahoma, we have 14 delegates. So that was a great experience, and being on a committee for the national office and seeing some of the behind-the-scenes activity. I’d never been to the national convention, and it was my first experience serving as a delegate.”
Fall also brings the State Fair of Oklahoma and the Tulsa State Fair. These are among the organization’s most publicly visible roles, helping manage the activities at each fair’s livestock shows.
As spring begins, state officers plan what’s known as a goodwill tour, a final chance to meet with members across the state before the school year ends.
“The officers split off into two groups of four, and we travel to different parts of the state, visiting about 30 or 40 chapters,” Capps said. “We prepare a 15-to-20 minute leadership program for them, talking about career goals and ways that they can achieve them. It’s about an hour-long stop and then we’re on to the next stop. There are six or seven stops for three or four days. It’s a lot of fun.”
Finally, the year winds to a close at the state convention again when new state officers are elected. About 10,000 to 12,000 Oklahoma FFA members attend.
All of this activity takes place while students are carrying a full academic course-load from their respective high schools, and in addition to other extracurricular activities such as athletics, music or art.
Exploring career paths
As he looks ahead toward his future, Capps said there are all types of opportunities for FFA members to explore many different career possibilities.
“That’s something really unique about the FFA organization. There are so many opportunities,” he said.
Capps is majoring in Agribusiness: Pre-Law. When he attends law school in the future, he plans to specialize in Indigenous peoples’ law.
“I could advocate on behalf of the agricultural industry and also the Native American community,” he said. “It’s my dream job to find a way to work for or with the tribes and the agriculture industry to benefit both.”
Growing the future
He’s proud of how the organization looks to the future, growing its own leaders and providing opportunities in an ever-changing environment. He anticipates that a background in science, technology, engineering and math will become important in agriculture.
“There’s so many different areas you can get involved in,” Capps said. “I see STEM being a big thing, and a lot of school systems have done a really good job of investing in STEM. I can see how (STEM) relates back into agriculture.”
Capps said as the world’s population continues to grow, the agricultural demands of the population may exceed what can be grown. It may be necessary to develop scientific methods to grow more food on smaller areas of land.
“No matter what you’re interested in, (through FFA) you’re always going to find a way to give back to agriculture and feel like you’re making a difference while having a fulfilling job and enjoying it,” he said.
Personal growth, support
Capps’ experience with FFA has helped him grow on a personal level as well.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve taken from my experience as an FFA member is learning how to get out of my comfort zone. When I was an eighth grader, I was probably scared to talk to a brick wall, let alone another person. And just having that confidence walking into a room, no matter who it is and not feeling timid to go up there and introduce myself and meet them,” Capps said.
“Another big thing that I’ve learned is to not being afraid to just try something new. Don’t be afraid because it’s something you don’t know a whole lot about. There’s going to be someone there to help you out. That’s something that is so great about the FFA. If you want to learn something, you might not know someone, but someone you know will probably know someone, and they’re going to help you out the best they can. They’ll get you where you need to be.”
In a year with so many good memories and chances to grow, Capps said he embraces the supportive relationships and the community he has built.
“It’s really been the friendships that I made,” he said. “If I have something on my mind, any of those people I can go to, I just talk to them, and I know they’re there for me. That’s something pretty unique. And finding those people that you can call any time, day or night, you know they’re going to be there for you. It really makes a huge difference.”