With FFA week only a short time behind us, I had a wonderful chance to reflect on the opportunities that I have had thanks to this agricultural youth organization.  I may have grown up on my family’s farm but when I was entering high school, I wanted nothing to do with farming or even in a broader sense – agriculture.

As it is said, father knows best and I was pressured into taking the Introduction to Agriculture class at Raymond-Lincolnwood High School my freshman year and join the FFA. I soon found myself struggling through the questions for greenhand quizbowl (a freshman contest on FFA trivia). This pressure turned into motivation after we managed to win beating Sullivan in what was then Section 19, I vowed never to turn down an opportunity with the FFA and in Ag.

As high school went on I grew sweet corn and other fresh produce. I raised turkeys which I marketed locally for the holidays. I traveled throughout the state of Illinois, but most importantly I found a passion for agriculture. After finishing my senior year as the Section 15 President, I had done a 180 degree shift from four years prior. No longer did I want to study political science and go into politics but I wanted to study and become a part of agriculture.

Now as I am just a few months away from completing my bachelor’s degree in agricultural systems at Southern, I have come to realize that there are several people who I owe gratitude to. One man in particular recently lost a battle with cancer. That man was my high school agriculture teacher, FFA adviser and friend.

Wallie Helm chose to take a struggling freshman to that contest. I often wonder where I would be had I not had that experience. What I hope that we can take away is the importance of our high school agriculture teachers all across our state. Collectively they expose a large pool of students to the opportunities available in agriculture.  It is important that we all encourage youth through 4-H and FFA to explore agriculture through hands-on experience, science projects, leadership enhancement and professional development.  It may be cliché but we must constantly be preparing our youth because they are our future.

Thomas Marten
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University

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