Every year in college, I find myself wanting to learn more and to “do” more as I prepare for my post-graduate life. I’ve always been someone who understands that you have to make things happen in your own life and that things won’t just appear for you. A few years ago, I took that belief to heart, and little did I know that this attitude would expose me to an experience that would change my life.
My dad enjoys reading various farming magazines for him to learn from, and The Furrow, John Deere’s magazine, was one of them. In his reading of The Furrow that day in the fall of 2013, my dad stumbled across an article regarding a program that Agriculture Future of America, known as AFA, recently hosted. Because of my past involvement in agricultural organizations and my consistent desire to develop myself more and more, he thought this organization sounded perfect for me. At the time, I had no idea what the logistics of it all meant or what a “track” was, but I knew it sounded impressive and that I had to take the next steps to try to get involved.
At that point in the year, it was too late to apply for AFA’s premier event, AFA Leaders Conference, but I kept thinking about it until the next summer, when applications for it came out. I stayed in touch with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech and the staff at AFA, and helped us apply for a grant that helps universities build relationships and partnerships with AFA. Gratefully, we received the University Growth Initiative Grant that year, and Virginia Tech was able to send three CALS students to AFA Leaders Conference in November of 2014. I was selected with my friends Michael and Lester to attend, and since then, it’s been full speed ahead.
I’ve written about AFA on this blog before, and it’s now something that I spend a large portion of my time working with, promoting, and talking about. Just ask my friends – from an average conversation with me, it’s easy to tell I love AFA and everything it stands for. My social media sites are blown up with AFA. It’s a huge part of me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
From the very moment I stepped into the Opening Ceremony of AFA Leaders Conference 2014, I thought “Wow, I do not deserve to be here. This is the best of the best in collegiate agriculturalists.” That statement and feeling was not a reflection of a lack of self-confidence, believe me. Rather, it was a hint at how incredibly impressive and elite AFA and its programs are.
That experience in Kansas City in November of 2014 reminded me so much of why I love agriculture and want to pursue it in the first place. It taught me about global and national agriculture in a way I had never been able to understand it before. It showed me that the community of people in agriculture and food is incomparable and is one of the strongest (and smallest) groups of people out there with a bond like no other. It introduced me to some of the most phenomenal young professionals and leaders I’ve ever met. It allowed me to see where I need to grow, but also where I succeed. It made me a better person, and from that first moment of “I don’t deserve to be here,” I’ve been hooked.
Last year, I had the opportunity to serve as an AFA Campus Ambassador for 2015, and I grew even more from that role alongside some of the best young agriculturalists in the nation. My leadership skills were put to the test, my confidence was increased, and my passion for agriculture and for working with students continued to grow. With a lot of hard work and collaboration with CALS, we were able to send 10 Virginia Tech students that year to Leaders Conference, and since then, our involvement with students from VT continues to grow with each and every program we host.
Again, AFA Leaders Conference last year changed my life and really fueled the fire more for me to be forward-thinking about this industry. It exposed me to even more amazing people who are some of the most influential people in my life. The speakers changed my outlook on things like personal finance, accepting job offers, trusting others, and managing change in my own life. And just when I thought things couldn’t get better in AFA, they did, and still do every single day.
Now in 2016, I’m honored to serve on the Student Advisory Team for AFA, which is a group of 10 students who plan and facilitate Leaders Conference, and help serve the organization as ambassadors in all that we do. It’s been about four months since we took on this role, and it has been the best thing I have ever done, hands down. We’ve been planning AFA Leaders Conference for months and are ecstatic that it’s going to be the biggest and best one ever, where we will bring together about 800 of the best students in agriculture and food and help them develop themselves, both personally and professionally, through workshops, listening to speakers, and exposing them to networks and future opportunities.
Although I’m incredibly biased about how wonderful AFA is, I want you to know that it has changed the lives of over 13,000 students in the country, too. The experiences and connections AFA provides the young people in our industry is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in another organization. It’s something that can do amazing things for you, if you just give a little bit to it. That’s my history with AFA, and I encourage you to start writing yours.
So if you’re an undergraduate student pursuing an agriculture or food related degree and you’re interested in bettering yourself for college and your future career, AFA programs are calling your name. We are here to help you become the best you can be, while meeting others who can support you and encourage you in ways you may not know you need.
Applications for sponsorship to AFA Leaders Conference 2016 are due on 9/9 , and you can find the application here. Your application is just a step towards you building more bridges – to your future, to other people who share the same passions as you, and to opportunities that are awaiting you. Our theme this year is “History Starts Now,” so why wait any longer to write yours?