How do you find a few ducks that weigh a single pound full grown? Well, I didn’t know the answer to that until I asked a friendly neighbor for help. I had been raising poultry for a few years, and I wanted to raise call ducks – a breed of ducks that weighs 16 ounces full-grown. Darrell Ray, our neighbor, gave me the contact information for a man named Chuck Rector, who raised flocks of my favorite feathered creatures. My dad and I went on a little road trip down to Waverly, Iowa. It was then that, thanks to Chuck, I started raising my own flock of call ducks.
Aside from what I learned during my extensive research on the Backyard Chickens online forum, I wasn’t sure what it took to raise call ducks. Lucky for me, I had met Chuck, who is ecstatic about sharing his wisdom and work with 4-Hers, FFA members, and young poultry enthusiasts in general. He showed me around his farm, answered my phone calls when I needed help with feed rations or incubation setups, and helped me improve my flock’s bloodlines. Now, as I have aged out of 4-H and my younger sisters begin to show interest in ducks, he has already been a guide for them too. Chuck has given me and many others guidance to share our passion for poultry with peers and other individuals who may be interested in poultry. Chuck is a model for what a life of service may look like.
Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, living to serve. This is the FFA motto that has shaped so many leaders through agricultural education. As an organization, it is FFA’s mission to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success.
While this language sounds elaborate and refined, the wording is nowhere as important as its impact. The last line of the FFA motto is “living to serve.” The greatest impact we can make, whether or not we come from an FFA background, is by living a life of service.
Living a life of service may sound like a big commitment that only a few people are capable of. If we look at service through the lens of “paying it forward,” however, we realize that a life of service can be carried out through both large and small contributions and actions. We can live a life of service by surrounding ourselves with three types of people.
Surround yourself with someone who can provide you with guidance. It’s as the saying goes: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” When I wasn’t sure how to raise call ducks, Chuck was able to provide me with insight that could help me grow. Over time, I earned a few state fair trips, participated in FFA poultry judging contests, and started my own entrepreneurship. For every success that we accomplish, we owe at least partial credit to someone else. The greatest leaders know how to be a follower, and the best teachers are students.
In addition to learning from mentors and those who invest in us, we share our experiences with peers. As a State FFA Officer, my teammates were some of my greatest supporters. Since the moment we were elected into office, my five teammates became people I would share countless experiences with. We knew each other well, so we were able to empathize with one another. When it came to creating projects and adapting our state convention to a virtual format, we experienced many of the same challenges and successes. Spending time with peers creates a sense of security and shared growth.
Mentors invest in us, and peers are with us. Both of these things are invaluable gifts. We can use these gifts to serve if we spend our time with the third group of individuals: those who we can invest in. As a product of FFA, 4-H, and many other student activities, I have been fortunate to have many people invest in me, whether it’s been through coaching, scholarships, or travel experiences. For many of us, the lessons we’ve learned with and from our friends and mentors have shaped us into who we are. The greatest way to say thank you for these things is by paying it forward: reinvest what has been invested into us.
It’s easy to find ourselves overwhelmed with the notion that we are to “repay our debts.” There is no “right way” to reinvest our gifts. Some people wake up asking themselves, “How can I use today to make someone else’s day better?” Others use their unique traits, like their sense of humor, to make someone smile. Some aim to be the person they needed when they were growing up. Many contribute their knowledge, talents, or resources. There are those who simply lend their presence in the moments that matter most. From directing someone to a resource to welcoming a foster child into your home to giving someone their first duck, we all have something to offer that makes both our life and someone else’s life a little bit better.
A life of service is a life worth living. We can live this life by balancing our time with the three types of people: someone to learn from, someone to grow with, and someone to invest in. Where do you want to grow? Who are those who understand you? Who is someone that finds joy in your presence? What do these people mean to you? How can you balance these relationships to serve yourself and others? By investing in others, we pay forward what has been invested into us.
FFA has taught me the importance of learning, doing, and earning. Most importantly, it has taught me the value of living a life of service. Since Chuck Rector taught me how to care for my new flock of ducks, I have found a community to grow with and a desire to share my experiences. To answer the initial question from this article, if you want to know how to find a 16-ounce duck, ask someone who might know the answer. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be able to answer that same question for someone else.
In the upcoming weeks, I will be sharing what I have learned and continue to learn from my experiences and conversations across the state. Topics will range from local stories to understanding the relevance of policies and current events in agriculture. Literacy is listening. To share any questions, story ideas, or comments on published or potential articles, please feel welcome to email me email@example.com.