The following editorial originated with a sister newspaper, The Mankato (Minnesota) Free Press.
As someone once deeply involved in the Future Farmers of America, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, native Brandon Roiger knows how beneficial participation can be and was a student leader within the organization. That’s why the agriculture educator is pushing the FFA to be better.
The national leadership should take Roiger’s advice seriously and update how it recruits membership and chooses leadership.
Now employed by the University of Minnesota, Roiger was on a task force that examined ways the FFA could be more inclusive for people of color, different sexual orientations, those with disabilities and from religious minorities. He isn’t satisfied with the panel’s work or the pace in which some of it is supposed to be done.
He recently wrote an online essay outlining how the organization has so much to do and needs to do so quickly: “Let’s stop talking about how we want to be more inclusive and facilitate training programs that ‘change hearts and minds,’ and let’s start talking about equitable actions, policies and programs.”
No matter what the long-held traditions are of this organization that started in the 1920s, positioning itself as a modern, inclusive group isn’t just a public relations move. It’s good strategy to ensure a future. Agriculture is changing. About 60% of farm laborers in the U.S. are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. In Minnesota, the dairy industry relies heavily on Hispanic workers. Hmong farmers in this state have formed their own association.
Membership and leadership should reflect the changes in agriculture. Most of the members of the FFA board of directors are white men. Dropping restrictive dress codes, Christian prayers at meetings and inappropriate jokes about ethnic holidays are just steps that scratch the surface of what needs to be done within the FFA.
Roiger is realistic and writes that the FFA will never be for everyone. But with systematic changes that should be carried out sooner than later, the FFA could be a better fit for so many more people than it is today.