“Even if I wasn’t wearing a jacket, I’d never be done with FFA,” Afton’s Kanyon Huntington said. “I’m never going to hang up the jacket because I got so much value from this organization, and I want to give that value back and help people discover what they can do.”
As it turns out, he will be in the jacket for another year as a National FFA (Future Farmers of America) officer after being named vice president of the central region at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis earlier this month.
A 2021 East Union graduate, Huntington got his start in FFA in the local chapter. At first, he joined FFA because his sister had done it before him and he wanted to show sheep in the county and state fair. But by the end of his freshman year, FFA would begin to change his life.
“As a freshman we got a new ag teacher, Mr. [Michael] Cooley. He motivated me to get involved,” Huntington said. “He had me do soil judging as a freshman on a team full of seniors. I credit it for giving me the confidence in stepping out of comfort zone and believing in myself.”
FFA provides students with a variety of leadership opportunities as chapters have a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, reporter and sentinel.
“It was a space where I could grow and stretch as a person, whether it be from contests or speaking,” Huntington said. “I recognized I could focused on my growth as a person while also shining a light on others’ accomplishments and helping them discover who they are at their core.”
His first leadership role was chapter treasurer. After that, he served his junior and senior years as chapter president.
“At the chapter level, there’s not a lot to do as an officer, just going to events, helping with the banquet,” he explained. “It helped me get more involved and gain community ties.”
This experience helped Huntington learn about his leadership style as well as how to influence or motivate others.
“It’s hard to get all the students involved to see what FFA has to offer,” he said. “It helped me learn to work as a team with other people that are different than you, work different than you. A lot of the other officers were younger than me, so I had to learn what I could to do connect with them and achieve our goals as a team.”
Once graduated, Huntington faced a dilemma. He could attend the University of Georgia where he was accepted into the political science program and give up FFA, or he could stay in Iowa and take a shot at a spot on the State FFA leadership team.
“It was a tough decision for me,” he said. “Ultimately, I felt a calling to serve a purpose greater than just myself. By running, I could give back to an organization that gave me so much and helped me grow into the person I am today. I wanted to help our members have the same experience I have had.”
“Inclusion” was the platform Huntington chose while running for state office. “When people think of FFA, they think of production agriculture,” he explained. “It’s more than just farming. It’s research, ag sales, policies in government. They could reap the same benefits as members who grew up on a farm.”
Huntington was selected to serve as state reporter, a one-year term from April 2021 to April 2022. He began studying political science at Iowa State University during this time. State officers travel Iowa, putting on conferences, going to banquets and participating in the state convention at the end of their term.
After a year of service, state officers can run for president to serve an additional year on the state leadership team. Once again, Huntington decided to throw his hat into the ring.
“I didn’t get president,” he said. “My name wasn’t called on stage.”
Though in the moment, he was disappointed, he took the opportunity to spend a year discovering who he is outside of FFA. Now that time is an asset.
“That’s a big piece I have to offer as a national officer,” Huntington explained. “We all got a year after our term of service as state officers to be a college student and live the regular college life – classes, job, making friends. It helped me discover who I am as a person and who I am as a leader.”
“I never wanted to give up on FFA,” Huntington said. “I was serving an organization bigger than myself that provides so many opportunities for students to grow. At my core, I want to build people up, help them discover themselves and be the best version of themselves.”
So this time, Huntington took a leap, applying for an office that only accepts six officers nationwide each year.
To begin, those interested in applying must be selected as the national officer candidate from their state. “Your state has to select you,” he explained. “There’s a personal round, one-on-one interview, stand and deliver which is advocating for FFA education and there are other rounds. From there, you get selected by your state.”
After he was selected as Iowa’s candidate, he needed to formally apply for the position. “It asks you about your FFA experience, what you’ve been involved in, what leadership you did in high school outside of FFA,” Huntington listed. “It all eventually culminated in a personal essay I had to write on why you want to serve as a national officer and how will you embody the qualities a national officer should have.”
Huntington wrote the essay on three lessons he learned from his adopted brother Bentley.
From there, the group of candidates participated in a plethora of activities to determine who would advance. They did a video exercise, a stand and deliver, a stakeholder conversation, radio interviews, facilitating and more.
Of the six national officers, four positions represent regions, while one serves as secretary and one serves as national president.
Huntington’s region is the central region, where 10 of the 35 candidates came from.
“It was very nerve racking. Throughout this process, you’re baring your soul, baring your person to nine individuals you don’t really know,” Huntington said. “You have to be very vulnerable and genuine. At the end of the day, that’s what they are looking for – someone who can connect with chapter members and give them the space to grow. It’s a lot putting yourself out there like that.”
As the national convention came to a close and candidates waited to find out who would make the team, Huntington wondered what the next year of his life would look like.
“My name was going to be called or my name wasn’t going to be called,” he said. “I was in a good headspace. I knew I could make a difference even if my name wasn’t called.”
But this time, his name was called.
“I’m proud to represent small communities,” Huntington said. “Being a national officer from a smaller, ag-oriented community makes me feel like I can show those who are from small communities that they can do anything they set their mind to. You don’t have to be from big city or bigger state to make that difference. You can be right where you are and still impact people if that’s your passion, if that’s your focus.”
With the nature and duties of the national officer role, Huntington will take a gap year from Iowa State, but plans to return in spring of 2025 to finish his degree.
“I think real and vulnerable describes all of us [national officers] really well,” he said. “It’s a great group. I’m excited to see what we do with this year. We are going to live in the moment and always focus on the members and what we can do to better their experience.”