When U.S. Congressman Jason Smith visited Fredericktown High School’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) group recently it was by far not his first experience with the organization.
“I have said it numerous times, but my four years that I spent in FFA changed my life without a doubt. The reason I started FFA was because my brother was in it. I was excited that (this) is National FFA Week,” Smith said. “I was like ‘I have to come to a FFA chapter in our congressional district’ and I picked Fredericktown.”
Smith said he was honored to be in Fredericktown to visit with the students and appreciates their involvement in FFA.
“When I started in this organization I couldn’t even do the FFA creed. Those five paragraphs, one paragraph at a time, barely putting a sentence together was so difficult because I was a shy kid who couldn’t get in front of people,” the congressman explained.
Smith said he never realized at the time how beneficial the leadership skills he learned in FFA would be and how it changed his life.
“It started with my FFA project, my supervised agricultural experience project,” Smith said. “I got summoned by the local city council and told that I couldn’t have my FFA project because I was running a commercial business in a residential area.”
Smith said he had to go in front of the city council numerous times and ended up losing the appeal.
“Their ultimate ruling was that I was running a commercial business,” Smith said. “It was 15 feet from my dad’s auto repair shop which was a commercial business but the fact that I had four dogs, that was a commercial business so I could no longer have that FFA project.”
Smith grew up in Salem.
“I will say that we moved out of town and I was able to grow my FFA project and I won state proficiency and specialty animal production,” Smith said. “It just prepared me for the job that I have today. That experience as a freshman gave me an interest in government that I never had and from that moment forward I have always paid attention to state, local, county and city decisions and how they affect our lives.”
Smith said he knew he wanted to stop things like that from happening. He said he did not know how but it drove him to study agricultural economics and continue on to law school before ultimately ending up running for public office.
“I reiterate to you all, what you are learning every day in this classroom or in the judging contests that you may participate in, or even on some of the trips that you go on, those activities really developed character that I didn’t know was coming,” Smith said. “It did mold me.”
Smith said he is still in touch with the friends he made in FFA almost 20 years ago and that they are supportive of him and his career to this day.
“The day that I got elected to Congress, June 4, 2013, there were roughly 300 of my closest friends and family that showed up to the city hall in Salem,” Smith said. “They handed me my framed FFA jacket from when I was the president. It was mainly my officer team that I served with. We are still friends and they showed up 14 years later.”
Smith said the jacket is currently hanging in his office in Washington D.C.
“Friends is what I value most other than the skills that I gained that I didn’t even know I was obtaining,” Smith said. “The good thing about being in this program is it prepares you for whatever you want to do. If you want to get a four year degree, or you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, or you want to be a welder or a plumber, or a teacher or a farmer … they’re all great careers and jobs you can have.”
Smith said if he was not in politics he would be a full-time farmer and joked that his congressional salary subsidizes his farm.
“(Farming is) just my passion and what I love dearly,” the representative said. “Its just a way of life that we are so fortunate to have because of where we live, and a lot of people don’t get to experience it.”
Smith said in order to be successful in life it is important to know how to build relationships and understand people.
“If you don’t build relationships and get to know the people that you work with you’re not going to be any good at it,” Smith said. “In FFA the team building activities that we did where you learn the talents and traits and how people would react and work together taught me so much.”
Smith said he encourages all members to get involved, pay attention and to show up. A student asked him what was his biggest life lesson from FFA.
“The best experience that I ever had in FFA was one of my biggest defeats,” Smith said. “I wanted to be a state FFA officer more than anything else … and I lost it to one of by best friends. Learning from losing really taught me what I should have done differently and how to improve. It was one of those things you don’t forget.”
Before Smith left the group for his next stop, he encouraged all members to apply for the Congressional Award presented by the United States Congress.
“This is something that every FFA member, I think, should be participating in because you are already doing everything that qualifies,” Smith said. “It is just signing up, filling out the paper work, setting the goals and going forward. You all do that as freshman starting in the FFA and it would be awesome to be recognized through Congress.”
Smith said fewer people are recognized for a Gold Medal Congressional Award in the district than those who receive Eagle Scout or the American FFA Degree.
To learn more about the Congressional Award visit congressionalaward.org.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at email@example.com