The Future Farmers of America (FFA) is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. In an effort to spread the word about the inspiring efforts of leading FFA members, Dirt to Dinner will be highlighting some participant stories.
Our first featured story is about Katherine Smith. Through her extensive work on the farm and in the books, Katherine sees the biggest challenge in modern agriculture is helping smallholder farmers achieve profitability through financial stability and process improvement, and her mission is to make that happen.
Here is Katherine’s story told from her unique point of view. She details how she found her special niche in ag and what she is doing to further her career in the industry.
I grew up in Lynden, Washington, an agricultural community known for our dairies and berries. 90% of North America’s red raspberries are grown within a 50-mile radius of Lynden. My grandparents live on the south coast of Oregon and are organic cranberry farmers. Growing up, I always got to skip at least a week of school during October so that my family could go down to help with the harvest. Perhaps one of my fondest memories was my grandma teaching me how to do long division on a cardboard box so that I could calculate something for the farm. From a young age, I knew I wanted to work in agriculture. I loved how there was always a new challenge to solve, whether that was machinery breaking or trying to figure out a better way to complete our work.
I first joined FFA during my freshman year of high school because I wanted to show pigs at the local fair. I’d been involved in poultry 4-H, but my mom thought FFA was a better fit. I joined the Livestock Judging team because I figured that would be a good way to make me a better and more knowledgeable showman. However, I wasn’t that committed to FFA until after my judging team went to state and ended up placing second. This meant that I was now going to the state convention the following week for the awards on stage.
At the first State dinner, one of the advisors asked me if I was good at math. I said sure, and he asked if I wanted to join the Farm Business Management team since they had an extra spot. The Farm Business Management competition is a three-hour agricultural economics, accounting, and finance test.
That was a pivotal moment for me; from then on, FFA became my passion. I ended up raising hogs, competing in Livestock Judging, Horse Judging, Farm Business Management, Parliamentary Procedures, and Extemporaneous Public Speaking. I served as a chapter and district officer and ran for state office.
The summer following my senior year of high school, I began working as a Quality Control Lab tech at Enfield Farms, Inc. in Lynden, WA. Enfields grows, processes, and packages individually quick-frozen raspberries and blueberries, in addition to puree and juice stock products. Having grown up working on my grandparent’s organic fresh fruit cranberry farm, I had experience with processing fruit and thoroughly enjoyed my work at Enfield’s.
The following summer I was offered an internship with the Quality Control department. Through that internship, I continued my work in the lab, but also performed a study on storage temperatures and the formation of ice crystals. I then assisted in the development of a process to allocate pallets of finished product to different product codes based on quality.
My third summer at Enfield’s, my internship changed a bit to focus on Food Safety and Inventory Control. During that summer, we implemented a new warehouse management system and I worked with the inventory tracking personnel to take raw fruit weight measurements and label-finished product according to the product codes given by the process I had worked on the previous year. I also worked with production employees to ensure food safety protocols were followed.
Last summer, my job title was Production Quality Coordinator. I was responsible for ensuring the correct operation of our inventory tracking process within the processing plant, the product disposition process, and shipping finished pallets to the various cold storage facilities.
While in college, my hope had been to work with my grandparents to expand their cranberry operation and to eventually move into farming full-time. As a result, I began majoring in biochemistry since the university with the best scholarship didn’t have an agricultural program. I started taking some business classes, as well, and eventually realized my passion for accounting.
Perhaps I should have figured this out a little sooner because as soon as I graduated high school, I began coaching my chapter’s Farm Business Management team and have always been passionate about bringing business and agriculture together. I ended up changing my major to Accounting during my junior year and miraculously still managed to graduate on time.
In college, I realized that while my grandparent’s farm is great for them in their retirement, the amount of capital required to expand it to the point where it would be profitable for a family is extensive. At the moment, I am studying for my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams and this fall will begin working for a local public accounting firm with a lot of agricultural clients. While at the moment I’m not pursuing agriculture full-time, my plan is to save my money and slowly work into farming for myself.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that I love educating people about agriculture, working to develop new processes, and the challenges provided by agriculture. My hope is that I will be able to use my business education and agricultural experience to help farmers do business better so that they can continue to do what they love. Whether that means that I continue in accounting or end up with my own farm, I think I can achieve those objectives either way.
Stay tuned for more Future Farmers of America stories like this. If you would like to get involved with FFA, visit www.ffa.org. If you’re a fellow FFA and want to share your story, or tell us more about an inspiring FFA member, please email us at [email protected] – we’d love to hear your stories!