Connected To The Land Ep. 15: Future Farmers of America – Colorado Executive Director (Don Thorn)
Connected To The Land Ep. 15: Future Farmers of America – Colorado Executive Director (Don Thorn) In this episode of...
Connected To The Land Ep. 15: Future Farmers of America – Colorado Executive Director (Don Thorn)
In this episode of Connected To The Land with 4Rivers Equipment, host Fred Eichler speaks with Don Thorn, Executive Director of the Colorado FFA about the story of the FFA and its beginnings, what they’re doing now, and what they plan on happening in the future.
Fred: Welcome to the 4Rivers podcast. We are your working partner and we mean it. Well, today I am sitting here with Don Thorn with the FFA. And I’m pretty excited just to talk about FFA, ’cause it’s something that I’ve heard about my whole life, but I don’t know a ton about. Seems like a lot of the guys I know are involved with FFA or they’re talking about showing calves or sheep or anything, you know, pigs. I was just with a buddy in California, he’s like, “Oh, those are our FFA pigs,” Anthony, a buddy of mine. So, Don, if you would introduce yourself, tell me what your position is with FFA and let’s talk a little bit. Let’s educate people about what the FFA is.
Don Thorn: Alright. Well, thanks a bunch for the invitation to be here. And thanks to 4Rivers for inviting me. I was joking with Hunter, I said, “You went all the way down to the Tes before you could get someone to join you.” [chuckle] So… But it’s an honor for sure. So, again, I’m Don Thorn. I’m the executive director of the Colorado FFA Foundation. So I run the… We joke internally that my buddy, that runs the FFA Association, we always joke that I raise… I make the money and he spends it. [chuckle] So, he likes that, he likes that a lot. But although… So our foundation was set up a long, long time ago, and then they had a bunch of part time directors and then about 13 years ago, they hired… They took a big leap of faith and and I kinda took a leap of faith and I left school teaching and I was an Ag teacher and involved in FFA and we’ll talk more about that. So I became the director of the FFA, the first and only full time director of the Colorado FFA Foundation, and our mission is to raise funds and support the association, support FFA members and Ag teachers across Colorado.
DT: So, we kinda stay within Colorado, confined here, but we… It’s been a great ride and we’ve had lots and lots of support and partners. And it’s hard to believe I’ve been doing that for about 13 years now.
Fred: Now, for somebody that doesn’t know, let’s talk about… And FFA is of course, stands for Future Farmers of America, but let’s talk a little bit about the history. When did it start? And when did it start in Colorado? Do you know that? And I just think people might be interested in that.
DT: Yeah, so ironically it started… Or not ironically, really, but interestingly, it started in 1928. It came out of these Corn Clubs that they actually were using and they started… Farmers didn’t want… Wouldn’t adopt hybrid seeds. And so, these Corn Clubs got started and they actually started giving the seeds to people trying to sell the hybrid seeds and stuff, would give the seeds to younger kids, the farmer’s kid and ask them to grow a little bit themselves. And then when they saw that they were outperforming dad’s corn, then that’s kinda how it got adopted. And that was the original way back when… A way to start getting youth kinda organized actually. And…
Fred: That’s fascinating.
DT: It is, it’s pretty cool. So in 1928, we’ll back up a little bit before that, 1917 there was some legislation that came through called the Smith-Hughes Act and that created vocational programming, where they said, “Hey, you know, there’s some… A need for kids to learn vocations along the way.” And again, we’re very… At the time, a very agri… Agra… Agrarian society. And so, in 1928, a bunch of kids went to Kansas City, Missouri and they formed the National FFA Organization, at the time, Future Farmers of America as a place for leadership development for boys at the time. Unfortunately, they weren’t very forward thinking back then as far as including our lady, the ladies and females. And fast forward into the ’60s is when became fully integrated racially, and then in 1969, everybody finally got smart and said, “Hey, you know… ”
“All-inclusive, and include all the women,” and it’s been holding on ever since. Now, if you fast forward to today, there’s actually more women in FFA than there are men. And…
Fred: Wow, that’s great.
DT: And the girls hold… It’s almost right at 50/50, I guess. But the girls do hold more leadership positions than the gents. And so, that part’s kinda really a good position as far as gender equity. And there’s always work to be done on… To make sure on all equities, but… So, FFA started in 1928, it branched out in every state. I think Colorado chartered in 1929. And then, now we’re at an all time high, and so, it’s pretty cool. When I was a high school teacher, wow, 26 years ago, it’s hard to say that, there were about 85 high schools in Colorado that had FFA and now there’s about 115.
DT: There was about 4400 kids across Colorado that were involved in FFA back when I started teaching in 1996, and now there’s over 7200. So, what’s cool is… So FFA, just the history or the way it works is, in order to have FFA, your school has to offer a curriculum in agriculture. So we have these three parts that we talk about, work based learning, which we’ll talk a little bit more that’s really where our biggest focus is. Hands on instruction in the classroom and maybe a power lab, maybe any kinda lab, a greenhouse or any kinda lab. And then, FFA, the leadership component. So if you take three circles, kinda overlapping, kinda like the Olympic rings, you’ve got instruction, work based learning and FFA. So, a lot of times FFA seems to be the driver, but they’re really just a component of the total Ag Education program. And so, when visiting with you and Jesse, both… Neither one of you had been in FFA, but like in Colorado, you have go to a public school and your school has to offer a degree or a curriculum in agriculture and then usually FFA comes with it. And so, we’re really excited that we’re at an all time high in Colorado.
Fred: Now, can people get involved without that? In other words, is there a way to get involved? Or I guess, a couple of questions. One, it started out as farming, when did it get into the ranching as well?
DT: Right. Well, it started kinda in that…
Fred: You know, as far as the livestock, and all that stuff.
DT: You bet. And so, it was kinda started out on that farming side, but it immediately incorporated all the livestock, but what’s cool is we’ve evolved to… Farmer and rancher are only two occupations of over 200 that are agriculturally related, and so, there’s so much push in FFA to include and incorporate all these other awesome parts of agriculture that we automatically, our mind automatically wants to go to farming and ranching, but there’s all these other things from, like you said, outdoor recreation and guiding and agribusiness, to we’re on the 4Rivers Podcast to other people putting on their own podcast, Ag communications, Ag sales, finance, pretty much everything except for… I always said that in agriculture, you can pretty much have any occupation except being a doctor, medical doctor. So, FFA really encompasses so many things. That’s one reason that it’s… As we in the ’80s started looking at all of agriculture and not just limited to farming and ranching, it just grew and it’s grown so much more and people are just really excited about food and where it comes from and so, I think it’s pretty awesome.
Fred: I’ve noticed the same.
Fred: People are more interested and trying to learn about, you know, how do we can? Like, we can. We have a milk cow. You know what I mean? We milk the cow twice a day to just to show the kids, one, I think it helps give them a good work ethic, but you can make cheese and we make butter and ice cream from the cow milk, and it’s kind of a fun thing, but I’m glad you pointed that out. What are you guys doing? I know you guys have YouTube channels and all kinds of stuff where guys can get educated on things like that.
DT: Yeah, we’ve got a little bit of a… We’ve always got work to do on getting a little more organized as far as that goes, but there’s a lot of different things that we’re… So you asked, how people can be involved? And there’s certainly at the high school level, and then now at some of the junior high level is where a student would participate in FFA, but across Colorado, we’ve got, like I said, about 115 different communities that have Ag Education and FFA. And so, from an adult perspective, there’s always ways to be involved from a mentoring standpoint. Every one of those are running fundraisers, so there’s always the financial component of supporting, but there’s always just ways to reach out to the local Ag teacher to offer some expertise and some mentorship or those types of things.
Fred: So the best way to get involved, like you said, is to make sure your school that you’re going to has an FFA program, and that’s the best way to get involved.
DT: You bet. And if your high school doesn’t and you say, “Hey, this is… We really think this is cool,” there’s been a lot of situations where two or three people have really kinda started on a ground swell, and said, “Hey, we want Ag Education. We want FFA ’cause we see that as the marketing component, and that’s where you see kids wearing a blue corduroy jacket and a tie or a scarf and looking sharp. But that can start at a local level, and then just people can start talking to their local administrators, and then there’s people in the state that I work with that would then come and talk to you, and that’s how you get an Ag program started at your school.
DT: But what cool is there’s so much about… There is the thought about the farming and ranching part, but there’s… I was a high school Ag teacher for 13 years in a very rural area of Colorado. Only 5% or 6% of my kids were actually farm and ranch kids. Most of my students, and this is representative across the entire state, of those 7,200 kids, about 60% to 70% of them are what we called rural non-farm. 5% to 8% of them were actually farm and ranch kids. So then we have 5% to 8% of farm and ranch kids, 70%, if you want easy numbers, rural non-farm, and then the balance are what we’re calling urban and semi-urban students.
Fred: They’re just interested.
DT: Yeah, they’re just interested. We’re here in Greeley, Colorado, and they have one of the largest Ag programs in the state, and probably 98% of those kids that go to Greeley West High School that are in FFA are not farm and ranch kids, but they just think Ag’s cool and they think the leadership part that comes with FFA is the cool part. And that was the same when I was teaching as well, is we just had a whole bunch of students that just liked the leadership, the competition, all the cool things that they could be doing and had a genuine interest in learning about agriculture, and I think that’s really cool, because you want as many people to know. And in agriculture, I think the biggest thing is we just want people to appreciate agriculture if they don’t…
Fred: Yeah, if nothing else.
DT: If they don’t understand it, we at least want them to appreciate it, and if they don’t do that, we just don’t want them to change our way of life, right?
Fred: Right and vote against you when they become voting age.
DT: Right. For sure. And so, appreciation, understanding, and knowledge is for sure, but that’s kinda all over the place.
Fred: Well, and teaching people where their food comes from, I mean it’s sad, and I’m sure you’ve seen that too, where teachers ask some city kids, you know what I mean? Hey, where does milk come from? And they draw picture of a gallon jug. You know what I mean? It’s like, oh my gosh. Or the grocery store. And I’m sure that’s a challenge for you guys, but as the whole country sadly moves further and further away from farm and ranch, I mean, back in the day, everybody knew somebody that had horses or cattle or you know what I mean? Sheep or you know what I mean? Anything.
DT: You bet.
Fred: What is the FFA doing, I guess, to help promote that? How are you guys advertising that, I guess, or promoting it?
DT: Yeah, I think just through our enrollment numbers, it shows that while people are getting away from that, there is a renewed interest in it. When I was in high school, it wasn’t really cool to be in Ag, even in a rural area. It just wasn’t the cool, noble thing, but I think agriculture and food has become noble again, and so, I think that’s really cool. And I think what FFA’s doing is at the local level they’re… If they have all these students that are not farm and ranch kids, what an opportunity to be teaching them about agriculture and it’s happening. And so, when I say our enrollment numbers are at an all-time high, that’s really cool that we have programs, even new programs that start in rural areas and new programs that are starting in urban areas, is there’s just this appreciation to be able to talk about agriculture. And so, what are we doing is we’re just doing our thing, but we’re doing it in a way, and being a really attractive program through the leadership component, through some other opportunities to be competitive and do different things.
DT: It’s just naturally happening that the students are enrolled in Ag Education. So they’re learning about it, and we sure hope that they’re becoming advocates, right? And at least an awareness of it when they go to college and when they’re in… We find a lot of our students don’t necessarily go into a career in agriculture, but we know they understand and appreciate agriculture at that point. And so, we’re just trying to teach them. And then, we’re now offering Ag Education classes and FFA at the junior high level, so we’re starting a little bit earlier and so, that’s cool too.
Fred: And to know and to educate, I think that’s huge, ’cause that big joke, my son used to say, to mess with his friends, he’s like, “If a rooster lays an egg, which way does he usually face?” And then it’s like, “A rooster doesn’t lay an egg,” you know? It was kinda those little fun things.
DT: Oh, yeah. Yup.
Fred: So just educating people, I think is huge. And I think that’s one of the things that you guys do a great job and everybody’s heard of FFA. Like I said, even though my kids didn’t compete, because the school they went to didn’t have an Ag program, I guess, they weren’t really initiated or got into it from that side. I love that you mentioned ’cause somebody could be listening to this podcast, a parent or even a student that goes, “I wish I had that,” It might be kinda neat and it’s not that tough to really go to the administration with a couple parents and say, “We would like to look at maybe getting an Ag program, and here’s all the things we can do with it,” just to offer it because you brought up some huge points. People getting educated is a big thing, and whether they ever wanna raise an animal or a farm or get on a tractor or not, it’s important to know what that does or how much their lives are impacted by it, every time they go to the grocery store, for example.
DT: You bet. And I think the more we just have people that understand and appreciate than more… The better off we are, right? There’s only so much room, there’s only so many farmers and so many ranchers, and there’s only so much room for them to be at the table. But there’s a lot of seats around the table that are all tied to agriculture. And so, as long as we continue to make it to where people have a willingness to understand, appreciate, and learn about it and then we in agriculture continue to invite more people to the table, and you don’t have to put someone under the table to keep your seat at the table [laughter] that’s a good thing too, right?
Fred: That’s a good analogy.
DT: Yeah. You shouldn’t have to throw someone under the table to keep your seat at the table. I mean, it happened at my house, I was the youngest of our kids, [laughter] so you wanted to get the chair first, but that’s a different story. Yeah.
Fred: Well, let’s talk about even the responsibility component of that. So, let’s talk about what you guys are doing because, I think a lot of people don’t realize the work ethic that you guys are instilling in a lot of these kids. And as a teacher, you’ve had a huge impact, and I could tell just sitting here talking with you that there’s a lot of kids that you probably helped change their lives. And teachers, I can think back to some of the teachers that impacted my life in a huge way, so much so I went back 10 years after high school and thanked one of my teachers like, “I don’t know if you know it or not, but you had a huge impact in my life and me growing up and some of the things I’m doing.” So, let’s talk a little bit about what FFA’s doing and the responsibility it’s instilling in these kids.
Fred: When you raise an animal, there’s a lot of responsibility associated with that and the getting up and the caring for it. So if you would, talk about some of the impact on both young men and young women, because I think that’s huge. And my kids, them growing up in that environment and having horses to feed and cattle and goats and chickens and dogs and all the stuff that we do and milking the cow every morning, let’s talk about that, because I really think in a lot of ways that helps prepare them for life.
DT: You bet, and so what’s really cool is, we talked about those three components. So the FFA is the leadership side of it, where there’s opportunities to compete and stuff. But then if a student is enrolled in Ag Education, then they’re getting this instruction on a daily basis of some form, and then they have this leadership part for FFA. But then the third part, we call Supervised Agriculture Experience or SAEs, but SAEs are a work-based learning opportunity. And what’s cool about that is, work-based learning is this big new buzzword, but we’ve been doing this since 1928, and so, you talked about the care for animals and the responsibility. So, at a traditional level, yeah, a lot of our FFA members have as part of their SAE or their work-based learning experience, animals to raise and chores to take care of, and work ethic and those things. But it could be someone that doesn’t have those opportunities, but they’re still a part of…
DT: We really encourage entrepreneurship. We encourage students to think about owning and operating a business. That’s one of the big things the FFA Foundation does, is we fund grants to students to start and enhance businesses. It can be simple as raising… It’s not simple, but it could be as traditional as raising a bred cow, but it could be… We’ve funded some students that are… One’s running a bakery and a catering business, and one’s trying to get going with Ag communications and podcasts and those things. And so, it’s become very, very diverse, but what’s cool is the responsibility is the same, right? There’s still chores to be done. There’s still responsibility. There’s still this added level of owning and operating a business or working for somebody. So, through this third component of SAE or Supervised Ag Experience, or we call it work-based learning a lot now because that’s what the rest of the world’s using as a term, is that work ethic comes and that responsibility comes.
DT: And I can’t quote you the exact number Fred, but it’s a huge number. It’s like, 70% of students that enter college have never had a job, right? This is an amazing number. We’ve really changed that. So students across the country are not spending a lot of time in the summers working the food service jobs or any kind of job.
Fred: Right. They’re playing video games. [laughter]
DT: Or they’re in club sports or they’re in ballet or who knows what they are. And we’ve got our kids… We don’t wanna go down that. I got a tall soapbox for that.
DT: But we don’t wanna go down… But there’s a huge number of students that sometimes when they graduate college and they enter the workforce, that’s the first job they’ve ever had. And it’s crazy. So if you talk to businesses, they’re like, “Wow.” If a student had any kind of work experience, if they have any kind of work ethic, if they have those things then they just cream rise to the top like crazy. So we’re really excited that for our FFA members, it’s an integral part of their program. So whether they knew they were signing up for this or not, they’re kinda signing up for it. And it’s like, “You’re gonna have some sort of an experience either entrepreneurship or work for somebody else so you can gain those skills.” So we think that gives us… And so when I talk to students, especially our rural kids, I said, “You”… There’s a… I read an article about you need to play up your ruralness because it’s actually a huge positive and it’s a huge feather in your cap. About now we’ve got it in our… And so now we tell people, “Play up your FFA-ness because you’ve got this baseline and you’ve got this historical perception. And then if you can prove it, you’re you’re golden from a work standpoint and from a scholarship standpoint” and those things. So we feel like it’s really given students a leg up.
Fred: Oh, for sure. And I’m that way. When I hire people, I’d much rather hear that they’ve got some… If they’ve got that farm, ranch, or just that background in some way, it just seems like… I hate to be biased, but it just seems like they do have a better work ethic and they understand. So your exact position from the foundation side, let’s talk a little bit about your specific job. But before I jump into that, let’s… Somebody may be listening to this. Where’s the best place to go? Is it a website? If somebody wants to learn about FFA, they’re listening to this podcast and they go, “I just wanna learn some stuff,” where would they go?
DT: Right. So there’s about probably three different places you can go and we kinda do a little better job. This is always like, “Geez, now I got homework.” But FFA.org is the National FFA website and that’s a pretty great place to start.
Fred: So FFA.org?
Fred: Got it.
DT: And then in Colorado, you would just search Colorado FFA. They’ve got… It’s got kind of a weird link. So if you just search Colorado FFA, you’re gonna learn more about what happens in FFA, in general, in Colorado. And then we… Because we sit separately from the FFA Association, coloradoffafoundation.org. So, again, if… We don’t have a great one-stop shop. But if you search FFA…
Fred: Oh, it’s multifaceted.
DT: Yeah, for sure. And if you can’t remember anything, just search FFA and you’re gonna learn a whole lot. What’s really interesting is FFA is set up a little bit like our government got set up is we have local level stuff. So that’s happening at your high school, your local Ag teacher, your local administration. You have a state level association. And then to decide, you have the foundation as a funding arm. And then you have National FFA. So from the leadership standpoint, students can kinda progress through in state… Or local positions and state positions and national positions. And then we all kinda work within our own but work together at the same time. So just like sometimes the state of Colorado works pretty well with the federal government and sometimes it doesn’t.
Fred: Right. Yeah.
DT: But most of the time…
Fred: That sounds like with anything.
DT: But you always need the other one at some point. So you gotta… So it’s always good partnering and you’re always working together. So my position, I run the FFA Foundation. We work off to the side and we raise funds to support students, programs, and teachers across Colorado that… In addition to whatever is happening at the local level. So a local school pays the teacher and runs the program and bears all that responsibility. But then maybe a student participates at a state level contest and there’s… They do well, they would get a scholarship from us in order to compete at the national level. Or there might be a programs… Even though a local program does a program to make sure every kid has an FFA jacket, we run a program to make sure every chapter can do that. But we’ve put a lot of resources and effort lately into supporting the teacher a lot because they’re… Nationally, there’s a teacher shortage across all disciplines. There’s a national teacher shortage for Ag teachers. So it’s really cool that all these schools want to have Ag programs, but then we’re like, “Oh, but by the way, we gotta make sure you get a teacher.”
DT: And so we as a foundation have tried to influence and support a lot and we’ve put a lot of effort into taking care of FFA members across Colorado but also taking care of the development of teachers with a partnership with Colorado State University. And then also, our latest big thing is we’ve been running this… We took the lead. We kinda try to find that angel money and start something and make sure it’s gonna work and then figure out how to make it pay for… Take care of itself for a long time. Real quick, as an example, one thing we’re really, really proud of is we run… We started this program four years ago called Local Teacher Success. And we were… Our foundation was the lead in Colorado on it. We kinda put all the money together and a grocery cart of money and gathered it up. And then we paid one, then eventually now two former teachers to mentor new teachers, first teachers that are in their first, second, and third year of teaching. Four years ago, we were only retaining 50% of our teachers that were in their first, second, or third year of teaching. And now because of this program… We’re really proud of it. We’re now retaining over 90% of our teachers…
Fred: That’s huge.
DT: In the first, second, and third year.
DT: Because somebody wakes up every day thinking about those teachers and understands what they’re doing. So when I was an Ag teacher in rural southeast Colorado at McClave, which is a great school, great program, loved it. I student taught there, and then I actually team-taught with a guy, so I tell everybody I had student taught for five and a half years. But even after he left, and I was by myself, I was the only Ag teacher, okay? And so you have different challenges because you have all these other things that you’ve added to your plate. And every teacher in the building is extremely important, but it’s different. And even if a school has a mentoring program for their teachers, they don’t quite know what an Ag teacher’s doing, ’cause we’re all a little crazy anyway.
DT: But you just don’t know what’s going on. So through our Local Teacher Success Program we have two former teachers, one’s named John, and one’s named Emily, and they wake up every day thinking about, how do I make sure that our first, second, and third-year teachers are happy, are comfortable, are prepared, are working well in their community, and keeping the snakes around their ankles, and not all the way up around their necks? So by having…
Fred: I’d rather hear… Let’s write down some of these analogies.
DT: Yeah. [chuckle]
Fred: He’s got some really good ones. Alright, go ahead. [laughter]
DT: So by having someone that thinks about mentoring those teachers everyday, we have kept teachers in the profession. And so we’re…
Fred: That’s amazing though, that kind of a retention rate, it’s obviously making a difference.
DT: It’s making a huge difference. And we’re really passionate about it. And we just finished a campaign to actually raise enough money to endow that and fund that program forever, and so we’re really, really… We don’t have to put that grocery cart of money together anymore, so it’s a huge success. We just finished a $2 million campaign to do that.
DT: And we had one funder put a million dollars up front, they put another half a million on the table, and said, “If you can match it, you’ll end up with your two million.” And in a year, the community of agriculture just came together so well…
Fred: And matched…
DT: And they matched that money. And so our Local Teacher Success Program, we’re very proud of, but that’s something that the foundation led on as a way… We said, “Okay, what’s a big problem?” The problem was teacher retention, and we’re like, “How do we fix that?” So from a resource standpoint. So we still do a lot of things, take care of students awards, and scholarships, and plaques, and those things, and they’re all very, very important, but then we take a look at bigger stuff now that we’re on a lot better footing than we used to be, and we can say, how can we really effect change? And so that’s a big success of ours. We’re really proud of. And just coming off of that high, and now it’s like, “So now what’s next?”
DT: Yeah, my Board’s always like, “Now what are you gonna do?”
Fred: Yeah, as the executive, the head dude, I’m sure there’s a lot to that. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the sponsors, I guess. Now, this is gonna be a tough one, because… And if you don’t wanna talk about it, I don’t wanna leave anyone out, but I know there’s all kinds of individuals, donors that you mentioned, and some probably don’t even want people to know that they’re putting money in, but are there any business in Colorado that you wanna shout out, because people have an option to spend their money with anybody, but is there any organizations, or things in Colorado that you wanna say a thank you, like, “Hey, man, these guys have been huge,” or would you rather just… There’s so many…
0:28:38.6 DT: Well, we definitely… We’re here being housed by 4Rivers, and 4Rivers is a strong partner of ours, so we always wanna thank 4Rivers, but we don’t wanna leave anyone else out, because we offer very few exclusives, ’cause we take support from about anyone. [laughter]
0:28:53.8 Fred: Right. Which is great.
0:28:55.4 DT: But yeah, and so we have a variety… We have a really cool blend, I would say, from a donor perspective, of… We have sponsorship programs that a lot of businesses, Ag businesses across Colorado were a part of, that’s called our Star Partner Program, and that really keeps the general operating of the foundation rolling each year. Then we have a lot of individual donors that will donate just on a… Because they feel it in their heart to give, or we have different programs, two funding mechanisms that we’ve used in order to work on that endowment I was just telling you about, and then some other stuff is we have the Blue Jacket Society, people donate their old FFA jacket and make a financial gift, and that provides scholarships for students, but the cooler part is, I think, signing bonuses for new Ag teachers. So we give every new Ag teacher in Colorado a signing bonus from the Blue Jacket Society. And then you talked about teachers that had an influence in your life. We started a new program called Legendary Owl, and the FFA advisor, their position is here by the Owl, and so they’re considered older, and wiser. When I was teaching, I was older. I wasn’t always wiser.
0:30:07.7 DT: But I learned a lot from the kids, the students. But anyway, so that’s a place where people can recognize their Ag teacher as having an influence on their life. So my point is we have this great blend of sponsorship from businesses, Ag businesses and other businesses, we run events for some fundraising, we have personal gifts from individuals, and then we work with nonprofit foundations that fund other foundations. And so we’ve tried to find this blend of money to make sure that the foundation is fiscally sound, and fiscally responsible, but also, we’re not just wearing out one sector of people, because in… The cool part is… So when I quit teaching and I took this job in 2009, my dad was like, “You’re doing what?”
DT: “Do you know about the economy in 2009?”
DT: “Look outside?” So anyway, but I said, “Yeah, but dad it’s Ag, and people in Ag take care of people in Ag.” And they love taking care of youth in Ag, ’cause they see such a future there. And so it wasn’t easy, but it was highly motivating. And then people in Ag across all of Colorado have been extremely supportive of FFA, and it makes it a fun cause to work for.
Fred: And I love that 4Rivers is involved too. That’s great. And a lot of people don’t realize how many businesses take care of the youth, or involved in things like that. And you mentioned the scholarships, do you have a feel… And I don’t mean to put you on the spot here, but do you have a feel for how many scholarships you guys give out? I mean, is there a rough guess on the number of students? ‘Cause to me, that’s just a whole another plus. If somebody’s listening to this and going, “Wow, that would be a huge plus to get my kid involved in, just for that advantage, and maybe a scholarship opportunity.”
DT: You bet. So we give… We’re actually kind of small in the collegiate scholarship arena, but we’re… So, we give… Oh, we have recently started a… Kind of a full-ride scholarship that was given in honor of a past Board Chairman that, unfortunately, lost a battle with cancer a couple years ago. We have a handful of others, probably 15-to-20 scholarships, that start at a $1000 and go up. But where we’re putting a lot of effort, and it’s still…
Fred: And you call that small? Alright.
DT: Well, yeah.
Fred: That’s awesome.
DT: Yeah, thanks. But where we’re putting a lot of effort, and it’s still a scholarship, is we’re actually… Our grant program is much larger. Last year we gave out a little over $100000 in grants to students to… I talked about those work-based learning experiences. We gave out a little over $100000 last year for students to start and enhance a business. So, the whole idea is, I could give them a $1000 to go to college, right? Or as a senior. Or maybe I give them $1500 as a freshman, and then they start a business that generates over $1000 a year, every year, while they’re in college. Now some… You know, they used to… We used to joke that FFA stood for Father Farms Alone.
DT: Meaning… Meaning, you started all this stuff at Ag, and then you’re busy off doing all these conferences and stuff, and dad’s taking care of stuff. And now, it’s usually mom instead of dad, but… But we… So, we call them grants, but they are scholarships. But we’re putting a lot of emphasis on the freshman/sophomore level to try to give them some start in a business that’ll give them a lot more money than the scholarship money we might have gave them as a senior. One time.
Fred: So, like the… Yeah. You know, give a man a fish or teach a man to fish, right?
DT: Yeah. Yup, that’s what we’re after. So, we’re really proud of…
Fred: I had to throw in my own analogy. It’s so pretty good though.
DT: We… But we’re really proud of that grant program too, because it’s pretty impactful every year to students across Colorado. And in that one, a little north of 100000, and about 80… 80 kids get scholarships but… Grants. But then we also sometimes give money to the local school and then they start a business themselves, which affects a lot more students. So, it’s north of 100 kids every year getting some sort of a benefit there.
Fred: Here in Colorado?
Fred: So, let me ask you this. What would you like to see happen in the future? You know, I’m sure you’ve got all kinds of aspirations or dreams, you’re obviously a hard-charger. You know what I mean? And having been involved. And you talked about being raised up. You know what I mean? On a irrigated farm, which was fun. You know what I mean? To… When we were talking before the podcast, just getting a little background on your passion and how it kinda got started. But what do you see from your side? What direction do you wanna see FFA go in the future? And what other… Any cool programs you can talk about that you’re flying around in your head right now?
DT: Yeah, we’ve got two or three pretty big things kind of going on. We’ll circle back around to that. But what do I wanna see is just… I think as long as we can continue to have quality programs that focus on the spectrum of agriculture, that there’s so many careers that are related to agriculture. Everybody should get to be a farmer and rancher for a little bit, and sometimes it’s… You want it to be a longer bit or a shorter bit. ‘Cause hard work and there’s a lot of risk associated with it, but it’s a great… It’s a great lifestyle. And those things I said before the podcast, I wanted to get this out there, the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was raising me on an irrigated farm in Yuma, Colorado. And so, that… Just ’cause that helped mold who I was and who I am. But I think if every one of our students… What I would love to see is if every one of our students across the state would get to see what production agriculture looks like, but also know that there’s a career there somewhere in agriculture for them if they pretty much wanna be anything but a medical doctor.
DT: There’s a career for them. So, I think that… We talk about it earlier, that if we can continue to have more and more students know and understand and appreciate the broad spectrum of agriculture and everything that it takes, from finance to risk management to communications to the production side, I think that’s really cool. And so, as we can have more students involved in that and have everything from programs in our most urban areas of downtown Denver to our most rural areas of any corner of the state, that’s a way we can really do positive things to support agriculture. And then, that keeps everybody… As long as everybody’s fed, they’re all pretty happy usually. Right?
Fred: Very, very true.
Fred: So, from your side… You know, I had some questions that I wanted to ask, and we talked about some of them before the podcast. ‘Cause I was like, “Man, I’ve got so many questions.” Everybody’s heard of FFA or I think almost everybody has and… Like, me and Jesse had said, “Yeah, we both know a little bit about FFA,” but I wanted to delve into more and learn about it. Is there anything… Besides the questions I had, is there anything you wanna add about FFA or the organization? I think the FFA.org is huge. Somebody that’s listening to this, that will kinda get their foot in the door. Learning about it. I love that you mentioned the Ag program. That’s how you get involved. There’s gotta be an Ag program in your high school. And if your high school doesn’t, go to the administration. You know, get a couple of friends together, get a couple of other parents together, and ask about an Ag program. Say you think it’s important in your community, and I’m sure there’s probably people at FFA that would help put that together for them.
DT: You bet. Yep, it’s funny. A long time ago, we kept hearing about this one high school not very far from here, needed an Ag program. We kept hearing, “Well, they need to have an Ag program.” Then finally somebody went and said, “Hey, do you think we could have an Ag program?” And the administration said, “We’ve been wondering when somebody’s gonna ask.” So, sometimes it is really simple to start an Ag program, if you just have the right school, right administration. They see the value in it. It’s not as hard as anyone thinks, in all honesty. But…
Fred: Could a teacher ever approach… Sorry. As you talk, I get more questions.
DT: Yeah, no kidding. We could talk all day, right?
Fred: Could a teacher ever approach a school? I mean, is that an option, like, “Hey, I’m an Ag teacher. This is what I’d like to do.” Could a teacher ever approach a high school, and go to the administration, and say, “Hey, here’s what I’d like to bring you to your curriculum?”
DT: You bet. You bet. Yep, and it’s happened. It happens. And so, we just wanna make sure that the school’s completely behind it. We, the general Ag Education in Colorado, always wanna make sure a school’s really behind it and really willing to commit to a teacher and support the teacher and support the program, ’cause it’s different than just adding an extra club or an extra sport to the school. It’s a whole deal, ’cause you’re signing on for a teacher and then some sort of facilities and those things, so. And then, there’s a lot of ways that there’s lots of different programs that… And we don’t get into it from a foundation, but the state of Colorado, there’s reimbursement programs, because you have a Career and Tech ED program and it’s a little different. But it’s… It gets… The devil’s in the details, for sure. But it definitely can happen. And it just, a lot of times, takes a couple of people saying, “Hey, how do we start an Ag program?” And so, that parts… That’s the way it works at the high school level, and that’s where it all starts is the local level.
Fred: Nice. Well, man, I’ve learned a ton. Is there anything else you wanna throw in as we’re closing down? Is there anything that you had on your list you would like somebody to know when they’re learning about FFA?
DT: You bet. I just think it’s certainly an organization that’s evolved, and it’s an organization that’s for everyone. There is an opportunity for everyone to participate. Definitely don’t have to be a farmer or a rancher or wanna be a farmer and rancher even to participate, ’cause, again, there’s only so many spots. But I just think we want people to know that FFA has and continues to evolve as society evolves, and there’s a place for every kid in there. My counterpart in Texas is… He runs a… Their foundation’s about 10 years older, and because it’s Texas, it’s about 10 times bigger. But I love his quote, he says, “That blue corduroy jacket hugs every kid the same.” When they zip that up…
DT: He says that when they zip that up, it hugs every kid the same and they all have a clean slate and a fresh start. And that’s what’s cool about being in FFA is you can forget every part of what’s going on in your life or anything, you can zip that jacket up and… There is something about everybody kind of dressing up and looking sharp. And then, knowing that the opportunities… Everybody’s got the same opportunity when they zip that jacket up.
Fred: What a great closing. Man, that was pretty impressive. Well, Don, it’s exciting is sit here and talk to you. Thanks for, not only educating me and Jesse, who’s helping to run the podcast, but hopefully some people gained some really interesting knowledge there and hopefully they’ll go check out FFA.org and get involved.
DT: You bet.
Fred: Thank you so much.
DT: Thanks a bunch, it’s been a lot of fun. We’ll do it again if you have me back, that’s for sure.
Fred: I’d love to.
DT: Alright. Thanks, Fred.