The fields of corn and soybeans were just the space a Hope resident passed between her school and her family’s home on Schaefer Lake until discovering National FFA, an agriculture-related organization, in the seventh grade.

Then a whole new world opened for Natalie Taylor.

Although her family was not involved in farming, Taylor found an activity at Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School that has shaped her life’s plans and changed her perspective.

Before FFA, her mind was on water sports and the fun a kid can have on a lake.

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“I didn’t think about where my food came from or the problems farmers might have or how important agriculture is to this country. Now agriculture is a very important part of my life and I think it will always be a part of my future,” a smiling Taylor said.

Agriculture and FFA became so important to Taylor that after graduating from Hauser she delayed her first year of college to serve as an Indiana FFA state officer, the state reporter.

Aleesa Dickerson, the Hope FFA adviser, said she recalled when Taylor told her she wanted to run for a state FFA officer position.

“She said, ‘I have been given so much, this would be my way of giving back,’ and that is just how Natalie thinks,” Dickerson said. “The idea of the state officer program is that members of the FFA help other FFA members learn leadership skills. Natalie is dedicated to that.”

Taylor, now 19, was elected state reporter at the Indiana FFA Convention in June 2017. The one-year position includes responsibilities such as recording and publishing news of FFA activities to FFA members throughout the state.

“In order to perform well as a state officer you must have a passion. Natalie has that passion. She really does want to help others develop self-confidence and leadership skills, and she believes the FFA program is the way to do that,” Dickerson said.

Busy year

All the state officers commit to one year of service. They do not receive a salary, but receive receive free room and board, a small clothing allowance and gas money for their vehicles they use for FFA activities. They live together at the FFA Learning Center at Trafalgar.

State officers have several duties to perform in addition to their individual positions, said Joe Martin, adviser to the state officers. As a leadership team, the state officers plan and lead 10 three-day conferences each year, visit school chapters across the state and plan and orchestrate FFA competitions. Individually, officers serve as FFA ambassadors to non-FFA related activities, give speeches at events and other duties as assigned. Each state officer gives an average of 12 to 15 speeches at FFA chapter banquets, Martin added.

“On the average, they are all on the road two or three days a week and they travel from one end of the state to the other. We have determined they can each expect to put around 30,000 miles on their cars,” Martin said.

Even on the days that state officers are not on the road, they are still fulfilling paperwork requirements, writing speeches, planning events and doing research for FFA programs, Martin said.

The FFA program has more than 200 activities designed not only to teach elements of agriculture, but also to help teach leadership skills and self confidence. Whether the activity is welding or communications, there are competitions designed to hone FFA members skills. The competitions are held first at chapter levels, then district, region and finally state levels. The state officers help plan and facilitate many of the competitive events, Taylor said.

“Competitions are an important part of the FFA training program. But they are not about making just one person great or the best. They are about sharpening the skills of each person at each level,” she said.

When one person reaches a high level of leadership skill, they are expected to go back and help others build their own leadership skills, Taylor said.

“The FFA is about developing leadership in everybody to make our country strong. Strong leaders make a strong country,” she added.

Added benefits

All FFA members are encouraged to have supervised projects during their high school years. Natalie’s supervised project began with a study of agriculture land management. It expanded to include agriculture communications and then incorporated her studies in graphic design.

“It’s funny. Mom told me about the time I became involved in FFA, my Mom and Dad were looking around trying to find someone who could help me with my problems with communication. They were worried that I wasn’t able to express myself and thought I needed help with that. Mom said after I started working on the FFA program, the problem just seemed to disappear. I didn’t even know I had a problem, but I guess FFA fixed it,” a smiling Taylor said.

Making speeches and communicating are now a part of Taylor’s everyday world.

Taylor and Indiana FFA President Claire Baney also do an excellent job working together to plan leadership training event, Martin said.

“I don’t know how they come up with some of the things they come up with, but they have all kinds of methods to get their points across. They are amazing,” Martin said.

Natalie’s father Dr. Scott Taylor, and pediatrician in Columbus, said he is pleased with the FFA program and especially the state officer program.

“It is an amazing program. Natalie was elected on a Wednesday. She came home on a Thursday and then she was gone on Sunday to begin training for her duties. The program has so much effort dedicated to self-development,” Scott Taylor said. “These kids are 18- and 19-year-old’s right out of high school, and they are out there going all over the state to work with high school kids. The FFA gives them amazing leadership training.”

Future plans

Taylor’s service as an FFA State Officer will officially end June 22. She and the other officers will receive a scholarship award after completing their duties.

There is some sadness in leaving her fellow state FFA officers.

“Since there are six kids in my family, I didn’t think I would have any problem adjusting to living with six other people in the same house. But, I did. We are all from very different backgrounds and used to doing things our own way. At first, it was very hard for me to get used to living at the Learning Center with the others. Now I can’t imagine not having them all around,” Taylor said, with a slight catch in her voice.

Taylor will enter Ivy Tech Community College’s “Path Way to Purdue” program this fall. She plans to complete her first two years of classes in agriculture at Ivy Tech’s campus in Lafayette. Those two years will convert to credits at Purdue for her final two years at the university. Taylor has an interest in ag communications and ag sales, she said.

“I will have smaller class sizes and more access to teachers by starting out at Ivy Tech. I will also save a lot of tuition money by doing it that way. I am very excited,” Taylor said.

The Taylor file

Who: Natalie Taylor

What: Indiana FFA state reporter

Age: 19

Hometown: Hope

High school: Hauser, 2017 graduate

Family: Parents, Dr. Scott and Christy Taylor; siblings, Jessica, Melanie, Daniel, Andrew, Peter

College plans: Ivy Tech’s “Pathway to Purdue ” program at Lafayette in the fall to begin studies for a career in agriculture