RALEIGH — A native North Carolinian will soon be responsible for overseeing the development of the next generation of American farmers.
Joshua Bledsoe of Raleigh is headed to Indiana to become the next chief operating officer of Future Farmers of America, a national organization that encourages students to pursue careers in agriculture. Founded in 1928 with a focus on farming, the FFA has evolved to include business and environmental aspects of the agriculture industry.
FFA runs programs in schools across the country that award degrees to students for activities such as taking agriculture classes or doing community service. As COO, Bledsoe will be involved in the business side of FAA, including developing educational programming used in schools across the country as well as planning the group’s annual national convention.
Bledsoe, 39, has been involved in FFA since high school. He went on to run a high school FFA program and worked at both the FFA’s state and national offices before being put in charge of the North Carolina program in 2009. The state has more than 300 local agricultural education programs, with 400 teachers and 42,000 students.
Bledsoe’s involvement at all levels of FAA has given him valuable “grass-roots, hands-on experience” and made him a good candidate for the national job, said Dwight Armstrong, CEO of the national FFA.
“We are excited we could recruit him away from North Carolina,” Armstrong said.
As a boy in the town of Dobson in Surry County, Bledsoe didn’t see his future in agriculture.
On his first day at Surry Central High School, Bledsoe noticed “ALG 1” and “Intro. to Ag.” on his class schedule and asked his teacher why he was enrolled in two algebra classes. He had not signed up for an agriculture class, but his father, a pastor, encouraged him to stick with it. Bledsoe’s father remembered his own experience in agriculture classes in high school and thought the class could teach his son important life skills.
The class gave Bledsoe a new perspective, and he got involved in the FFA program, attending state conferences and local farm shows.
Bledsoe’s involvement with what he calls his “family of agriculture” encouraged him to continue with FFA. When he went to N.C. State University as a teaching fellow, Bledsoe became state FFA president during the 1991-1992 school year.
After graduation in 1995, Bledsoe went to work as an agriculture teacher at West Columbus High School in Columbus County, which he remembers as a “wonderful experience.” He was named Teacher of the Year for the school and the county, and in 2000 the school was recognized by the National Association of Agricultural Educators as the outstanding program in the Southeast, making it one of the top six FAA programs in the nation.
Bledsoe came to Raleigh in 2001 as state FFA coordinator, overseeing the group’s day-to-day operations from its base at N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Starting in 2005, he spent four years at the national FFA offices in Indianapolis, helping develop and deliver leadership programs as well as organizing conferences across the country.
Bledsoe will return to Indianapolis in mid-February.
In his new position, Bledsoe will work to implement a national strategic plan for the FFA, which has more than 557,000 members in grades 7 through 12. Although these responsibilities will take him away from FFA students, he says he remains passionate about the group’s mission to promote leadership and personal growth and prepare students for careers in agribusiness.