As scholarships were awarded at Texas FFA State Convention, the applause coupled with cheers kept on echoing the filled arena at Fort Worth Convention Center. One by one, over the course of a week, more than 2,500 students received scholarships.
That’s more than 2,500 cheers from about 13,500 attendees. The scholarships amounted to over $2.3 million.
The convention, held in Fort Worth on the week of July 15, is the organization’s 91st annual convention.
The sheer scale of the convention and Texas FFA as a whole is massive. The large reach of Texas FFA is the reason that made 17-year-old Sydney Blackmon realize her purpose in this world is something much bigger, she said.
“It’s clear, cut and dry to what I like to do now,” Blackmon said. “And I feel like [Texas FFA] is my calling. It has been like a rope here. They’re like, ‘here’s your rope’ and it’s been pulling me in, pulling me in.”
Growing up in the small city of Van, more than 100 miles east of Fort Worth, Blackmon does come from an agriculture background. Her grandfather makes hay feeders for cattle. Other family members own cows and rabbits.
Blackmon wants to preserve while also steam out from her family roots. She is planning to pursue a career in agronomy.
“If you don’t know what that is,” Blackmon said without skipping a beat, “it is everything. It’s entomology, it’s weed management, soil qualities. You fix problems for farms. It’s everything. And, it’s real life.”
FFA may stand for Future Farmers of America, but the organization focuses on all aspects of the agriculture industry, and not just enabling production farmers.
Science and technology is receiving a growing attention. Because there is an alarming need to fix global food insecurities.
According to a 2019 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report, more than 820 million people do not have enough food to eat.
In the next 32 years, the world will need 80% more food to feed the population, according to Aaron Alejandro, executive director of the Texas FFA Foundation, the nonprofit that administers funds for Texas FFA.
“There will not be 80% more land. There’s will not be 80% more natural resources,” Alejandro said. “So, when looking ahead where we’re going as a world, we need people that understand food. We need people that understand agriculture.”
The annual convention is a place where important issues such as food insecurities and ideas to alleviate them can be discussed, he said.
The week-long convention offered the students various leadership workshops and specialized events and activities, on top of receiving recognitions for their achievements.
And, Fort Worth was a gracious host.
“Every city that we go to, we work with a group of business professionals that become the ambassadors of the city to the FFA, and there are our ambassadors of the FFA back to the city,” “So, folks like Mr. [Edward] Bass and Brad Barnes [president/general manager at Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show], some prominent names right here in Fort Worth are members of our host committee.”
The city, in turn, received great value hosting the convention as well.
According to estimates from Visit Fort Worth, the 2019 convention had a direct economic impact to the city of about $14.4 million.
About 10,000 attendees were visitors to the city and stayed in hotels and other accommodations, which in part had an indirect economic impact of about $9.9 million to the city, according to Visit Fort Worth.
“Fort Worth is a great example of never losing your sense of history, but also at the same time being very progressive,” Alejandro said. “In my opinion, this is one of the more progressive cities in the state of Texas. But, while it is progressive, you haven’t lost your western heritage. You haven’t lost your roots in agriculture, in food.”
Fort Worth has been the host city a few times before. But this year marks a significant milestone.
In 1968, then-Texas FFA President Bill Sarpalius moved the motion to admit women as members in the national organization. Sarpalius then moved on to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sarpalius gave his Texas FFA retirement address during an annual convention that was held in Fort Worth. So, having the convention in Fort Worth again was of significance.
The former congressman was in attendance at this year’s conventions as well.
And so was Brooke Leslie Rollins, one of the first female Texas FFA state officers. Rollins now serves as assistant to the President of the United States and director of strategic initiatives at The White House.
Rollins said in a statement: “I never thought I would end up in the West Wing of the White House, but through this organization I learned that if you work hard, do the right thing and dream big, audacious dreams, anything is possible in this great country.”
The 91st Annual Texas FFA Convention is taking place at the Fort Worth Convention Center from July 16-19.