I wasn't exposed to FFA until I was an adult and am always honored to have the opportunity to speak at FFA banquets and events. Recently, I spoke at the Rugby High School FFA banquet. About 70 percent of high schoolers in that district participate in agriculture education classes and FFA. I've watched them from afar and know they're one of the top chapters in North Dakota, the region and even the nation.

No matter the program or activity, I believe setting aside time in our full schedules to celebrate students, teachers, advisers/coaches, families and supporters is needed in our culture and communities. Like a sports team or music group, FFA success doesn't happen during school hours. There are long practices before school and late into the evening. Students work to build their Supervised Agricultural Experience and extensively prepare for Career Development Events throughout the year. It's a huge time commitment.

Parents, employers and their communities support and encourage FFA members and advisers. Taking an evening to collectively celebrate and recognize all of the work and accomplishments is important for everyone involved in agriculture education and FFA.

Many community supporters view agriculture education as an opportunity to connect to a next generation of leaders, employees and business owners. FFA alumni chapters also support and encourage the chapter and its members through scholarships to go toward continuing education, whether it's at a trade school, a two- or four-year program or an advanced degree such as medical or law school.

Regardless of the size of an FFA chapter, I always leave FFA banquets with an even stronger belief in our next generation and their future careers.

In my travels to Rugby, which is known as the geographical center of North America, I drove through the "belly" of North Dakota, north up Highway 3 from my south central North Dakota home. I had 171 miles of windshield time one way through the heart of an area that's full of rural opportunity, even though the future is a bit unknown. I thought about the average age of farmers and ranchers being around 60 and the next generation needed to fill an array of roles in agriculture and rural areas.

That's where agriculture education's importance and connection comes into play for all sizes of schools and communities.

Agriculture education isn't a core subject - yet it's math, science and English combined into one. The opportunities offered through agriculture education and FFA are diverse, but they can be tailored to individual students based on their interests, skills and talents.

Agriculture education opens doors and builds the foundation for careers that often bring students back to their roots. There's no formal research, standardized test or measurement to prove the impact of agriculture education and FFA, but I see it. It is happening in communities such as Rugby.

After a tour of Rugby with my local friend Christie and brief visits with a few teachers, it's evident the town is vibrant and strong. Young people are moving back. Thanks, in part, to a thriving agriculture education program, community vitality is strong. There's no doubt agriculture education fosters a connection to community, to the land, to the people and to the future.

I'm a firm believer in offering agriculture education and FFA programs in our schools. Find out when your local FFA chapter is hosting their banquet this spring and attend. Shake a few members' hands, thank the agriculture education teacher and know your community's future is stronger.

If you don't have agriculture education or FFA in your school district, show support to get one started by contacting school leadership and learning more from the state FFA office. Show your support for agriculture education and be a part of building your community's future.