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Walsh reflects on time as president of National FFA
By JANE W. GRAHAM
WOODSTOCK, Va. (Sept. 9, 2014) — Virginia is home to Brian Walsh, the 2014 president of the National FFA, but he has not seen much of it since taking office in January.
Walsh calculates that he has racked up 80,000 miles visiting FFA chapters in 32 states. He expects the mileage to grow to between 100,000 and 110,000 by the end of the year.
He said his travels have shown him that agriculture much more than the stereotype of the farmer as simply raising hogs, milking cows and growing corn.
He said he believes strongly that there is a place in the industry for anyone in any field with a passion for what they are doing.
“It’s a big industry,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It needs a lot of talented, educated people. We need to feed a lot of people. No matter what your passion, there’s a spot in agriculture for you.”
When his family moved from New York City to the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Walsh attended Central High School in Woodstock and got involved in FFA and 4-H.
He rented some land to start a small farm raising animal projects for both organizations.
When asked about how he got involved with FFA, he chuckled before telling the story.
“I didn’t know about FFA,” he said. At his first chapter meeting, “the teacher gave me an application and said ‘fill this out.’”
The application was for a junior office in the organization.
“I was blown away by the organization, the scope, size and impact,” he said. “My greatest memories were created with FFA members. There are such incredible people in FFA.”
He competed in local, regional and national contests before vying for national president.
Representing Virginia in May 2013, Walsh was one of 42 candidates that went through five days of interviews with a committee selecting a slate of six national officers — president, secretary and four vice presidents.
Walsh said his duties as president have included giving keynote addresses to state FFA conventions.
He has met leaders from large agriculture companies including Tyson Foods and Elanco Animal Health and Tractor Supply Company.
A highlight of his term so far was his visit to Alaska where he spoke in April to the state convention with 90 members attending. This was 50 percent of the membership in Alaska, Walsh said.
He said some of the Alaskans are home schooled and they have created an FFA chapter across the state, using computers to keep in touch. Most of the Alaskan members, however, attend public school.
Walsh had met an Alaskan FFA officer whose family raises sled dogs.
He visited them and got to see some dogs that had run in the famous Iditarod race.
They are now used as breeding stock. He also visited a farm south of Fairbanks that raised reindeer.
After taking a year off from college to devote himself full-time to the FFA post, Walsh said he will resume his sophomore year at Virginia Tech, majoring in agriculture education in January.
He said he isn’t fully decided on what he wants to do after graduation. Visiting FFA chapters across the country has him thinking about teaching but he hasn’t ruled out work in agribusiness or starting his own business.
Later in life, he might consider joining a corporate agriculture business or growing his own farm business.
“I don’t have it planned,” he said.