BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell County’s Future Farmers of America members and the alumni who support them throughout the year were honored Monday during the annual FFA banquet at the Iredell County Extension Center.
The event kicked off the FFA’s national week of celebration, which encourages more students to consider careers in agriculture.
The celebration started with the Official FFA Opening Ceremonies, an invocation, and a banquet-style barbecue dinner sponsored by Carolina Farm Credit.
Statesville High School’s FFA chapter was the host of the event. Chapter president Brittany Acosta welcomed around 105 guests and thanked them for their support of FFA.
Howard Williams, an accomplished attorney, who grew up in north Iredell County on a dairy farm and attended Harmony High School, was the keynote speaker.
Williams credited his high school teacher and FFA advisor Ralph Kurfees with pushing him to interview for state FFA officer his senior year.
“That’s where my life actually really changed when I was named state president,” Williams said. “It was really one of the great experiences only to be followed by a better experience.”
He had an opportunity to meet people across the state while attending chapter meetings and speaking engagements. In the fall, he attended the National FFA convention for the first time and was encouraged to run for national president.
“I didn’t know much about the process, but all I can say was I was very lucky. I was elected national president,” Williams said.
He returned to N.C. State University and told his professors that he needed to take a break from school and he devoted a year to carrying out his role as national president.
“I traveled to England and stayed with three different families,” Williams said, recalling that one farm he visited had servants and on another slept near cats.
He also travelled across the U.S. and gave presentations three times a day for five to six days a week.
“We had a period of two weeks where we had steak for lunch and steak for dinner. I never thought I would get tired of steak, but I did,” Williams said.
“My experience was something that money cannot buy. The opportunity to travel and meet people and to represent the FFA in its fundraising activities … it’s something that no other organization can replicate,” he added.
He told the parents in the room that encouraging their sons or daughters to be a national officer is a good thing, but that only six are elected a year.
He also shared his thoughts on the future of agriculture.
One of the problems North Carolina has is the average age of farmers in the state is 58, and they aren’t being replaced. He also said that the number of self-employed farmers is on the decline.
It takes a lot of money to be in the farming business. Many people who traditionally would have been interested in farming are turning to agribusiness and working with a large corporation, he said.
Williams left students with some advice.
“Think about an area you have a passion for and an aptitude for,” he said. “Learning to work together, being able to express yourself and willing to change – all things that you learn in the FFA, they will put you in good stead and be a foundation for you.”
“Remember one thing, you need to be prepared. When you have an opportunity and you have preparation, those two things typically bring about success,” he added.
Iredell-Statesville Schools Director of Career Technical Education Todd Williams read a proclamation designating February 22-29 as FFA Week.
It reads, as follows: “whereas FFA and Agriculture education provides a strong foundation for the youth of America and the future of food, fiber and natural resource systems.”
The programs promote “premiere leadership, personal growth, career success among its members.”
Each school received a signed proclamation and a photo with I-SS Superintendent Brady Johnson and school board Vice Chairman Chuck Gallyon.
“I’m so proud of all the chapters. In particular, Statesville High School,” Williams said, noting that Statesville is still a new chapter.
Supporters who also spoke during the program included:
• Nancy Keith, Iredell County Cooperative Extension Service;
• Spencer Degenhardt, Wilkes Community College;
• Amy Poirier, Mitchell Community College; and
• Paul Renegar, Carolina Farm Credit
Student representatives from each high school also shared a report on their chapter accomplishments, career development/competitions and fundraisers for alumni attending the event.
Distinguished guests included Gallyon, Johnson, Iredell County Commissioner Ken Robertson, Deputy County Manager Susan Robertson, N.C. Rep. Jeff McNeely and Farm Bureau board members.