By Jack Jennaway, Business Advocacy Coordinator

Ag Celebration week is an opportunity to celebrate the crucial role agriculture plays in our economy; for me, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the role ag has played in my life. I grew up on a family cattle ranch, which my parents continue to operate today, and a huge part of growing up for me was participating in 4-H and FFA. These experiences shaped who I am today, and I now understand that they are quite unique. These organizations instilled in me a strong work ethic and useful skills at a young age, and later they expanded my world. My hope for this Ag Celebration week is that more people will come to appreciate 4-H and FFA as I do and seek out opportunities to support them.

Farm and ranch kids never need to look for a job; they are born with one. Like most people who are born into the ag business, I have been helping out on the family ranch since before I can remember. When I grew older, 4-H gave me something productive to do with my free time. 4-H club members attend monthly meetings, occasional conferences, and prepare projects to exhibit at their county fair. These projects range from livestock exhibition to gardening, public speaking, and woodworking; each project requires significant preparation and teaches a valuable skill. FFA performs a similar function for high school students. FFA teaches students about the agriculture industry and affords many of the same opportunities as 4-H, but also teaches many relevant professional skills. For example, I competed in public speaking and sales competitions that taught me skills that I use often in my professional life. Not only did I learn valuable skills, I also learned personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and confidence—all things that any young adult can put to great use.

Perhaps more importantly, both these organizations expanded my world significantly. I grew up in a town of less than 200 people and there were only five members of my graduating class; yet by travelling to statewide 4-H and FFA conventions and even across the country on occasion, I made lifelong friends with people from all over Montana and I saw what life is like elsewhere in the country. By hearing from many world-class guest speakers (a former 3M CEO, for example) I learned about opportunities both in and out of the ag industry. There is good evidence to suggest that many children underachieve because they are never exposed to role models that show them what is possible outside their community. These organizations ensured that I would never suffer from that kind of deficit.

I have enjoyed a great deal of success so far in my quarter-century of life, and I owe a great deal of it to my experiences growing up in the ag industry and participating in FFA and 4-H. These organizations made me a better employee, a better leader, and a better person. This week, as we all recognize the importance of agriculture in our community, I encourage everyone to learn about the youth organizations involved in agriculture right here in Billings. Yellowstone County has plenty of opportunities to get involved in 4-H and FFA, and I believe strongly that we should encourage our children and high school students to get involved—they hold plenty of opportunities for people who are not yet involved in farming or ranching. If you would like to give something to the next generation, both organizations are always looking for volunteers. Agriculture is vital for our lives and our economy, and 4-H and FFA are vital to securing its future.