All Roads Lead Home: Inspiration from Former FFA Student
Ten years ago, Jeff Berry never dreamed he’d set foot in a college classroom. The Wyoming native planned to join the previous three generations and make a full-time career on his family's 100-year-old ranch.
But his Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor and high school agriculture teacher saw otherwise. "Jeff was a natural student," says Ty Berry. "He was eager to learn, self-motivated and always went the extra mile. I never doubted he'd attend college."
"As an Ag teacher and FFA advisor, you try to expose students to a variety of opportunities and large scope of careers that the agriculture industry provides. You recognize the talents and interests of the students, and encourage them to pursue something they are passionate about," he says.
Ty encouraged Jeff to participate in livestock judging, as well as FFA leadership camps and conferences, which took him out of Wyoming, and around the country.
"He wasn't sure he wanted to do it," explains Ty, who also happens to be Jeff's uncle. "He wanted to stay home during the summer and work cattle alongside his family. But every time he attended a camp, competition or conference, he'd come home and tell me he loved it."
Once Jeff graduated from high school, he decided to go ahead and give community college a try and enrolled in Casper College, where he joined the livestock judging team. Two years later, with an Academic All-American award, Jeff caught the eye of Texas Tech University – where he was offered a full scholarship for his high marks and accomplishments in livestock judging.
"Although I was hesitant about leaving Wyoming and my family, I couldn't pass up the opportunity," Jeff says. "I was also looking forward to joining the livestock judging team."
Jeff admits that although the team was highly competitive, they never won a competition until the National Championship, held in Nashville in 2007. "It was a true Cinderella story; we worked hard together as a team and became the National Champions."
Armed with a new livestock judging title, Jeff also left Texas Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science. With four years of schooling behind him, Jeff headed back home to get to work on the ranch.
That is, until the University of Wyoming offered him a graduate assistantship position, allowing Jeff the chance to pursue a Master of Science degree in Bovine Reproductive Nutrition.
"I knew Wyoming's program and faculty were well known in the industry for bovine reproduction, which was very appealing to me," says Jeff. "My family has been administering artificial insemination for over 60 years and I was interested to learn about the technological advances available to help improve the genetics and conception rates on our operation."
Prior to graduation, Jeff was asked to give a brief presentation on his Master's work during a cattle industry meeting in San Antonio. It was during the week in Texas that he met an executive for a global bovine genetics and technology company.
"Once again, my plan was to return to the ranch following graduation," he says. "But I was very impressed with the company and couldn't say no when they offered me an exciting position."
Jeff went on to serve as a beef technical specialist for the genetics company and was based out of their Central Nebraska office. He managed the bull test center and helped market composite bulls.
"I loved my job, the people I met and worked with, and the opportunities it provided me, but there was something calling me back home," Jeff explains. "I wasn't looking for a change, but there was a feeling inside of me that I couldn't ignore. I knew the time had come to return to Wyoming."
Now at the age of 26, with six years of higher education behind him, Jeff's preparing for his first set of students at Laramie County Community College, where he's accepted the position of agriculture instructor and livestock judging coach. The new role also provides Jeff the ability to help out on the family ranch.
"The guy who wasn't going to go to college is now preparing to teach college," Jeff says with a laugh. "But my experiences allow me to truly relate to incoming freshman who might rather be out in the pasture than sitting in a classroom."
"There are so many options in the agriculture industry right now. I want to expose my students to the many different paths their future careers can take. I have the ability to open their eyes, just as my Ag teacher did for me, and show them what's out there," he says.
Jeff's uncle couldn't be more proud, and looks forward to working alongside his nephew and watching him succeed in the education field.
"Throughout his entire journey, there was one thing Jeff always knew – no matter what, he had a supportive family and working farm waiting for him," Ty says.
Were you aware that according to the last published census in 2007, that the average age of a farmer is 57 years old in the USA? In order to continue to supply our citizens with food, we must have young people that are willing to become producers. By supporting Future Farmers of America (FFA) through our network of dealers, it is our way of encouraging the youth of the nation to become part of agriculture.
Whenever and wherever you see a project by your local FFA, please offer your encouragement and support.