By Nicole Zema, VFBF Communications
Andrew Smith is part of a nationwide family with origins in Virginia. This family’s heirs preserve tangible memories of a storied organization serving youth since 1925.
Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s associate director of governmental relations will be officially recognized as a recipient of the Honorary American FFA Degree at the upcoming 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo. Each year, FFA honors exceptional individuals and companies for outstanding contributions to the organization.
Smith grew up on a dairy farm in Hanover County. He joined FFA, previously known as Future Farmers of America, in eighth grade at age 13. He still has the iconic blue corduroy jacket from Liberty Junior High School, among other memorabilia.
“This is my first jacket. I could never get into it now!” Smith joked.
But he ensures today’s young agriculturalists have an opportunity to wear theirs. Inspired by the FFA’s Give the Gift of Blue program, Smith has coordinated the donation of blue jackets to Virginia FFA members every year since the program started.
“Instilling servant leadership and a pay-it-forward mentality is important to Andrew, and he has gifted a set of jackets to state officer teams over the past five years so that each officer can choose a student member from their year of service as the recipient,” said Andy Seibel, chief executive of Virginia FFA, who nominated Smith for the honor.
Smith was proud to wear his jacket, and he entered FFA leadership as chapter president in junior high and high school.
“I quickly found a niche,” he said. “I had interest in leadership development and was very active in parliamentary law.”
Smith competed in FFA parliamentary procedure contests, which focus on the body of ethics, rules and customs governing meetings and other operations of clubs, organizations and legislative bodies. He had a knack for it.
He served as a state officer after graduation, traveling around the state to discuss agriculture and FFA before studying dairy science at Virginia Tech.
“I worked for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and helped start the two-year Agricultural Technology Program at Virginia Tech,” Smith said. “There’s always been crossover—working in the industry and a connection with ag education.”
Smith described national FFA as a curriculum club where youth can directly apply what they learn.
“That’s why Farm Bureau supports it so much,” he explained. “It prepares young people for the industry, not just with leadership skills, but actual industry skills—agronomy, crops, cattle, tractor driving, safety, sales. It’s a close-knit networking group, really. A lot of people I work with today in agriculture, Farm Bureau, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, I met as youth in FFA.”
Smith was a member of the inaugural class of the Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results, or VALOR, program and a graduate of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. He joined the VFBF Governmental Relations Department in 2003. Seibel said Smith continues to serve in the state officer selection process, is a vocal National FFA Alumni member and engages in national-level agricultural policy development through grassroots efforts.
“Keeping his membership well-informed and having a voice in state and national agricultural policy is a testament to his love of agriculture and ensuring a safe and productive space for our future producers, consumers and leaders,” Seibel wrote on the nomination form.
Smith’s selection as a recipient of the Honorary American FFA Degree was a surprise. He saw it on Facebook.
“I didn’t know I was nominated,” he said. “But I am truly honored and very surprised.”
Smith is among other Honorary American FFA Degree recipients at VFBF. Past honorees include President Wayne Pryor; Dana Fisher, senior district field services director; and Ron Saacke, vice president of special programs.
Asked to share his collection of vintage FFA memorabilia, Smith carefully unfolded his collection of blue felt Virginia FFA banners and decades-old jackets. Other memorabilia include vintage FFA pins and trophies he sought and collected over the years.
Some items tell a story about our nation’s social history. A black jacket was once worn by a Hanover County student in New Farmers of America, the national organization for African-American young men that was absorbed by FFA in 1965. Before young women were admitted in 1969, FFA chapters selected an FFA queen or sweetheart. Smith owns an orange and blue satin queen’s jacket; its embroidered script says “Charlene Balentine, Queen 1940.”
Smith sees the treasures as part of a personal legacy.
“The agriculture industry in Virginia is somewhat of a family,” he said. “And Virginia has the longest history with FFA, and we want to preserve that.”