Brother and sister Ryan and Rachel Latta of Cedaredge are building on the learning experience they began in the Future Farmers of America chapter at Cedaredge High School. They have both taken on the responsibility of serving as officers in the state Future Farmers of America organization.
Ryan and Rachel are in college at CSU pursuing ag-related majors. In addition to the career paths they have chosen, both are now looking forward to careers in service to others in agriculture.
Rachel, a 2013 CHS graduate and class valedictorian, just came off a year serving as treasurer for the state FFA. Ryan, a 2015 CHS graduate and also a valedictorian for his class, just began his year of service as Colorado State FFA vice president. Being an officer of the state FFA organization requires taking a full year off college studies to tend to the statewide responsibilities and considerable travel that state office involves. There are 10 officers in the statewide organization.
The Cedaredge Future Farmers of America chapter and its instructor, Katie Greenwood, were instrumental in helping Ryan and Rachel find themselves and discover success on a career path in agriculture.
"The chapter has really grown," Rachel said. "There are always around 80 or 90 students in it. The really cool part is that everyone in the chapter is an active member."
The CHS FFA chapter involves students in the career development projects by which ag proficiency awards can be earned. The Cedaredge chapter has become very competitive in the various CDE competitions held among high school chapters, Rachel said.
Also, members of the CHS chapter are a familiar presence at school and community events. They don't just take tickets at school games; they prepare and serve meals catered to the meetings of community groups and add support to other community activities as well.
Rachel will be in her third year at CSU when the school term begins this fall. She served as state FFA treasurer from June of last year and completed her year in office last month. Ryan has completed one year at CSU and began his term as state FFA vice president when the new officers were installed last month.
Following some summer months of officer training, state level duties include lots of travel interacting and supporting local FFA chapters across the state. FFA state officers are also responsible for representing their organization and the ag industry at state and regional conferences. State officers are the official face of FFA at various ag producer events and other industry gatherings and conferences. They are a visible presence at the Colorado State Fair.
Ryan and Rachel had to run for their state offices. That process consisted of indicating their interest by submitting an application and then going through a series of interviews and performance tests evaluated by nine other FFA members from high school chapters around the state. The nine interviewers are looking for individuals who will work well together as an officer unit. "It is a student run organization," Rachel said.
Rachel and Ryan don't come from a production agriculture background. They grew up on their parents' three-acre homestead. Their success in FFA and their future career plans show that growing up on the farm isn't necessary for playing a leadership role in the ag industry.
Rachel said that she enrolled in the Cedaredge FFA program as a freshman "because I needed an elective." The success she soon began achieving with FFA caught the attention of her brother. He says he would have probably never considered FFA as an education option had Rachel not served as an inspiration. FFA has provided the opportunity for self-discovery. Ryan points out that personal development is one of the key pillars in the FFA program.
Rachel is majoring in horticulture at CSU with a concentration in food crop production. Her minor field is ag literacy. She is also beginning early work on a master's degree program in pest management. She sees herself one day in a setting very much like Delta County where she would help farmers, orchardists and others solve specific problems with their production issues, much as an extension agent often does.
Ryan has chosen a soil and crop science as his field of study, at least for his first year of study at CSU. His concentration is in applied information technology. On the career path he currently envisages, he sees the possibility of working with production ag enterprises using information technology to increase crop yield while helping them reduce inputs of carbon, chemicals and capital. Other career possibilities include a role in public advocacy for agriculture dealing with issues of food safety, of conventional agriculture versus organic agriculture.
Ryan said that his experience in FFA has shown how the program can "unlock the potential in young people" by encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones.