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Blue jackets storm Capitol for ‘Day on the Hill’

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – Hundreds of FFA students wearing their iconic blue jackets “stormed” the state Capitol during the organization’s annual “Day on the Hill.”

The two-day event allows FFA members to meet face-to-face with lawmakers and agricultural industry leaders while sharpening their leadership skills.

A wave of blue jackets mingled with legislators, statewide elected officials and industry leaders during the Jan. 23 “Cenarrusa Day on the Hill” luncheon, which kicks off the event.

One of the main points made during this year’s luncheon was that Idaho employers are practically begging for more FFA students.

Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke, a rancher from Oakley, told the students that every time he meets with an employer, they ask, “How can you get us more FFA kids?”

FFA is a career and technical education student organization that aims to make a positive difference in students’ lives by developing their potential for leadership and career success through agricultural education.

Bedke, the former speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, said the skills that FFA students gain through the program “are the very skills that employers want. They distinguish you from many of your peers when it comes to getting that job.”

He encouraged them to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them through the FFA program.

“You are as sharp as they come,” he said. “In FFA chapters around the state, we have a good thing going.”

The Idaho FFA program, in its 93rd year, now has 100 chapters with 5,600 members around the state.

The historical success rate of FFA students, when it comes to going on to college and succeeding in their careers, sets them apart, said Canyon County farmer Sid Freeman, a longtime FFA supporter who started the FFA tractor raffle program that raises more than $100,000 each year for the program.

“Today, we heard from the lieutenant governor … that industry is asking the question, ‘What’s it going to take to get more kids involved in FFA?’” Freeman said. “Industry wants these students specifically because of their degree of success.”

“The demand for these kids is through the roof, because of the historical success rate of the agricultural education students who participate in FFA,” added Freeman. “The resumes of these students go right to the top.”

One of the main focuses of the annual FFA event, which includes a leadership conference hosted by national FFA officials, is to provide students with an opportunity to see first-hand how public policy is developed during the legislative process.

It also allows FFA members to establish a relationship with their elected representatives and talk about agricultural and other issues.

“They really get an opportunity to mingle with their legislators and they find out how easy it is to be involved in the legislative process,” said Shawn Dygert, an ag education teacher and FFA instructor from Kuna. “They also get to see where the things they learn from a leadership perspective get applied in a regular, everyday kind of setting.”

Clara-Leigh Evans, executive director of the Idaho State FFA, said lawmakers in turn get to interact with the FFA students and experience first-hand the results of the program.

“I think the event is important in both directions, for FFA students and for legislators,” she said. “It’s just a win-win for everybody.”

Freeman agreed that the event is equally important for lawmakers.

“The Day on the Hill was created specifically to get these kids and the FFA program before the eyes of our legislators,” he said.

The luncheon is named for former Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, who died in 2013 and whose 51 years in the legislative 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 known as a champion of Idaho agriculture.  

During this year’s luncheon, honorary degrees for their long-time support of Idaho FFA were presented to Sen. Julie Van Orden, R-Pingree, and Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby.

Northwest Agricultural Cooperative Council, the main sponsor of the luncheon, presented friend of the industry awards to Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, and Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston.