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Blue jackets descend on Boise for Day on the Hill

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – Idaho legislators mingled with a sea of FFA members wearing their iconic blue jackets Jan. 24 during Idaho FFA’s annual Cenarrusa Day on the Hill luncheon.

The luncheon kicks off a two-day event that brings hundreds of FFA members from across the state to Boise to meet with legislators and farm industry leaders.

During their time in Boise, many of the high school students visit the Capitol building, meet with lawmakers and watch the state’s policy development process in person. 

“We’re here to teach students how to be civically engaged, engaged in their communities and engaged in agriculture, through leadership,” said Idaho State FFA

Executive Director Clara-Leigh Evans. “We take what we learn in the classroom and through FFA and we actually put that to use here building relationships that are so important as they advocate for agriculture in their communities here in Idaho.”

The event allows FFA members to experience first-hand how Idaho government works, said Kevin Barker, an ag education teacher and FFA advisor from Notus. 

“We can talk about it in the classroom all the time but it’s just like the ag education model: you have to have that hands-on opportunity,” he said. “When you’re able to go to the Capitol and watch the legislative process, there’s no amount of educational classwork that can take the place of seeing the legislators debate in person.”

The two-day event includes a leadership conference with national FFA officials. About 400 FFA members attended that conference this year.

The Day on the Hill event is named after former Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, who died in 2013 and whose 51 years in the legislature and executive branches of Idaho government make him the longest serving public servant in state history.

Cenarrusa started the first ag classes at Cambridge and Carey high schools and was a strong supporter of Idaho agriculture.

“One of the things about this (FFA) program is participation in government and Pete epitomized participation in government,” said Gov. Brad Little, who was a friend of Cenarrusa. 

Little read and signed a proclamation declaring Feb. 19-26 as FFA Week in Idaho. 

The proclamation noted that the FFA mission “is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”

It also noted FFA is the nation’s oldest and largest school-based youth leadership organization and that Idaho FFA is in its 92nd year, with 5,271 members in 96 chapters throughout the state.  

Little, a rancher, said that Cenarrusa, who was a close friend, was very innovative in the range sheep business and a lot of things done in that business today can be traced to him.

He encouraged FFA members to also be innovators and to work hard.

“I have been blessed to have known quite a few Idaho pioneers in my long lifetime,” the governor said. “The common denominator in all of them was hard work and innovation.”

The event is an opportunity for FFA members to establish a relationship with their local legislators.

It’s also an opportunity for legislators to learn about the FFA program. 

“Since I’ve been in the legislature, it’s one of my favorite things,” said Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, who has served in the Idaho Legislature since 2010. “Seeing all the blue jackets , the enthusiasm of the youth and just the professionalism they have at such a young age.”

He said interacting with FFA members has inspired him to be more diligent when making decisions about education “that are going to impact those young kids, so when they take over, they have a good foundation from which to work.”

Last year’s event was canceled due to restrictions related to COVID-19 and it was good for FFA members to again engage with legislators and industry leaders face to face, Evans said.

Despite the COVID disruptions, the FFA program has continued rolling and local advisors have done a great job keeping students engaged, she said.

“It’s all about local program success when it comes to FFA and agriculture education and our teachers have done a stellar job of that,” Evans said. 

Honorary FFA degrees for their long-time support of Idaho FFA and agricultural education were presented to Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, former chairman of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, and Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.

The Northwest Agricultural Cooperative Council, which sponsors the Day on the Hill, each year during the event presents friends of the cooperative industry awards to people who “have demonstrated a dedication and passion toward Idaho agriculture, the people and the industry.”

These awards were presented this year to  Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, chairman of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, and Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome. 

Lickley, a rancher, has served Idaho’s beef industry at both the local and national level.

Burtenshaw is a farmer, rancher and livestock dealer.