Leadership conference draws FFA teens from across Missouri

Thursday, August 5, 2010 | 6:09 p.m. CDT
Members of the Future Farmers of America organization gathered in the second floor of Memorial Union for their annual leadership conference on Thursday.

COLUMBIA — Clad in blue corduroy National FFA Organization jackets, Andrew Awalt, 16, and Jimmy Copher, 17, exaggerated their swagger as they made their way to the center of the Mark Twain Ballroom in MU's Memorial Union.

With Awalt beatboxing, Copher launched into a rap about Mariah Carey's work with Make a Wish Foundation that his team, Megatron, had just written. At the end, he threw up his hand and yelled, "Holla." The pair received hoots of applause mixed with laughter for their effort.

Megatron's rap took first place in the Living your Passion for Humanity song contest. It was part of an activity meant to help the participants define their passions at the Missouri FFA Leadership Adventure Conference.

About 140 high school students from 24 Missouri FFA chapters participated in the conference Thursday. Freshmen and sophomores attended the Advancing New Frontiers program, geared toward the basics of self-discovery. Juniors and seniors attended the Starting the Expedition Process, which helped them plan how to make a lasting impact in the world.

"This conference not only helps them as an FFA member, but also helps them be a step ahead for life," said Andrew McCrea, a former FFA national officer. "Everyone needs to be a good leader."

The National FFA Organization, formerly Future Farmers of America, changed its name in 1988 to reflect the growing diversity in agriculture.

"It's such a diverse field that a person in Chicago could be involved in agriculture and never set foot on a farm," said Corey Flournoy, a former American National president. Flournoy is from Chicago and was the first African-American national president.

Adam Chesser, 16, said he is undecided about a career in agriculture but said the conference helped develop his leadership skills.

"Basically, if you can just get past being shy and let yourself shine through, then you can be successful," he said.

At the conference, Lindsey Seabaugh, 16, followed the dress code in her black skirt, black tights, blue scarf, white collared shirt and her FFA corduroy jacket, personalized with her name on the front. She said the ensemble can get warm in the heat.

"We were at FFA camp earlier this summer, and once we hit the air conditioning it was great," she said.

Seabaugh and her friend Brittany Amos, 17, both hope to have jobs in the veterinary field. As part of FFA, they were able to shadow a vet this past year.

"I learned how to declaw a cat and what they look for during a checkup," Amos said.

FFA member Justin Grimes, 15, wants to major in agricultural engineering once he graduates from high school in Osborn. This year, he was on a livestock judging team, where he learned about muscle and tissue quality.

"I live on a farm, and the way I figured, when I buy cows in the future when I own my own farm, I can buy better quality ones," Grimes said.

Back home in Cameron, Alicia Witt, 17, raises cows for a supervised agricultural project through FFA. She's had her four cows since May and will continue to feed and care for them until November, when she will process and sell them.

Her best friend helped her name the cows.

"We named the one who always comes up first to eat Leroy Brown because we decided he was the 'baddest cow,'" Witt said. The others are Godfather, Crybaby and Sunny.

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