Steamboat Springs When Soroco High School graduates Megan Baker and Tyler Knott joined the National Future Farmers of America, it might have been expected. Both come from ranching families who settled in Moffat and Routt Counties long time ago.
But what may surprise many people is the fact that FFA is more than just an ag group that focuses on cows, sheep and crops.
These two young individuals, both recently elected to state offices of the FFA, were attracted to the FFA's leadership training.
"It builds leadership for when you go to have a career for all areas not just ag," explained Baker.
While the FFA is originally grounded in agriculture and all members must take ag-oriented classes, the organization's focus is on "premier leadership, personal growth and career success."
The two 18-year-olds netted an unusual coup this year. Although they're from the same FFA chapter, both were elected to leadership offices in the state.
That means the two will forego college for a year in order to serve out their terms as state officers.
"It is pretty unusual," said Soroco's chapter advisor Byron Dean.
"There's only ten officers and three thousand members statewide."
Baker and Knott's honor may not be so surprising when their resumes are reviewed. Both have won numerous leadership and ag awards, with Baker being named the State 4-H Outstanding Youth Leader last year. The 4-H Club is another ag-based youth organization.
FFA is one of the few school-sponsored organizations that continues to work with students until they're 21 years old. In fact, students can't run for state office unless they have graduated high school because of the intense leadership training and traveling done by the students.
Baker said former state FFA officers told her that their year as an FFA officer was equal to being in college for three years.
Knott, whose family owns 2,200 acres in South Routt, is typical of the youth that once dominated FFA organizations around the country. He's been working his family's ranch since childhood and wants to continue doing so after college.
But Knott pointed out that in the 21st Century, FFA is more than cows and sheep.
"It's home and community development, landscaping, fencing, ag sales and service," Knott said, rattling off opportunities available to students who may not even live in rural areas.
"Our advisor tells us the only thing you can't relate back to ag is babysitting," Knott said.
Indeed, a national spokesman for the FFA said there are 300 different careers in the field of agriculture from biotechnology to international marketing.
"There's more opportunity than just production agriculture," said Dale Crabtree, a teacher service specialist with the National FFA.
"It's not just cows and sows. In Arizona, we actually had biotechnology classes where we propagated venus flytraps and roses," Crabtree said. "Those are the type of cutting-edge technology programs that students are trying to get involved with."
While both Baker and Knott concentrated their "Supervised Agricultural Experiments" on beef and sheep, they encourage other students to get involved even if they've never seen a cow.
"You can just take care of lawns," Knott said.
"You just don't have to live on a ranch or be involved in ag," Baker added. "Get involved, that's when everything opens up."
From an apartment in Chicago to a ranch in Routt County, both Knott and Baker said becoming a state officer is an honor and a way to give back to the FFA organization that has taught them to be responsible and productive.
In addition to leadership conferences, Knott and Baker will travel to talk with corporate sponsors and FFA members.
"We are a group of the top (FFA) leaders in Colorado," Baker said.
"We greet members and try to get them more involved."
The officers also meet with businesses and industries, both learning from them, and trying to get FFA sponsorships.
The traveling is intense, with appearances at the State Fair and stock shows.
"We were elected 2 1/2 weeks ago and we've only been home five days," Baker said.
The adult leaders who have watched Baker and Knott grow from their Freshman year in high school say they are both deserving of their latest honor.
"They both possess outstanding leadership and speaking skills," said Jay Whaley, the 4-H agent from the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office in Steamboat Springs.
"They're some of our top young ag youth in the state."
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