National FFA president from Shenandoah County wrapping up term

virginia-newThe National ffa organization was founded at Virginia Tech in the 1920s, but it’s been 35 years since it was led by a Virginia youth. National ffa President Brian Walsh of Shenandoah County has spent the past year travelling the United States, visiting local ffa chapters and participating in farm tours and conferences.

Now he’s in the home stretch of his one-year term, preparing to hand the title to the next national ffa president this month at the 87th National ffa Convention & Expo in Louisville, Ky. The event will run from Oct. 29 through Nov. 1.

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel to 32 different states and more to come” and have seen many different types of agriculture, Walsh said. “There’s people from all sorts of different backgrounds. I saw some reindeer farms in Alaska and tobacco farms in North Carolina. It makes me appreciate what we have here in Virginia.”

Touring the Shenandoah County Fair this summer reminded Walsh of his own experiences raising sheep and hogs for ffa projects, then participating on four state award-winning ffa teams. Visiting with local ffa members is part of his role of inspiring young people to become leaders among the next generation of American farmers.

“For me, it’s really about helping those green-hand ffa members, those ninth grade students … to really to find their place in this organization,” Walsh said.

Participating in his local ffa chapter allowed him to learn, grow and find his place in the world, Walsh said. He credited his ffa advisors with making it possible for him to step out of his comfort zone to run for national office.

In 2014 there were 579,678 ffa members in 7,570 chapters nationwide. Like many of them, Walsh never thought he would be involved in ffa. His father is from New York City, and his mother is from Northern Virginia; however, he started showing lambs and hogs at age 9 at his county fair and was hooked. He even convinced his mother to lease an 8-acre farm near their home, where he raised hogs and lambs to show and sell. His passion for agriculture continued to grow, especially as he learned of other agriculture career opportunities through the ffa.

Many young people exhibiting at fairs might go on to raise animals professionally, but Walsh noted that today’s agriculture involves far more than traditional on-the-farm careers.

“We’re preparing students to be scientists through agriscience programs across the country,” he said. “We’re developing businessmen. We are preparing students for a wide variety of careers. We, as the youth of agriculture, need to be prepared for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

It’s going to require both a strong farming tradition and new technology, Walsh said, to feed the estimated world population of 9 billion in 30 years. Today’s ffa participants, he added, are well on their way to meeting that goal.

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