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Breanna Holbert: Pushing Limits and Boundaries

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Egaging, intelligent, strong and articulate are just a few words that describe Breanna Holbert. At 21, she has made her way through the National Future Farmers of America, or FFA, ranks, and if there were only one word to describe her role as the newly elected 2017-2018 national president of the FFA, it would simply be “inspiring.” 

However, if there were one word that she dislikes most, it’s “can’t.” 

She is no stranger to embracing challenges in life, and she swiftly uses failures as an opportunity to learn. She enjoys public speaking and having conversations that spark meaningful connections. Elected at the 90th national conference, Breanna understands why many like to bring attention to the fact that she is the first African American woman in FFA’s 90-year history. Both her race and gender represent minority demographics, both in the agricultural community and in public perception. 

No Limits
But the only word that can really capture the essence of Breanna Holbert is “leader.” Inspired by capturing the unknown and embracing the unfamiliar, she is consistently pushing the boundaries within herself and uses limitations as motivation. From a young age, she realized perseverance was necessary. Her biological father left her and her family when she young; that included Breanna and her four siblings. Her mom suffered from heart disease and raised five children on her own.

“My mom often worked three or four jobs to make sure we had everything we needed. My goal from a young age quickly centered around making my mom proud,” said Breanna. She spent her free time hanging out with friends, playing basketball, enjoying her theatre group and staying heavily involved with her church group, wise enough to know that keeping busy after school was the key to staying out of trouble. Growing up in Lodi, she always felt included and supported by her community and peers. 

Playing with Plants
She was a bit shy and always a good student; her main objective for high school was to stay out of the limelight. Tokay High School would inevitably provide her with opportunities that she didn’t even know existed, starting with an abundance of electives to choose from. “I didn’t realize there was going to be so many options to pick from. There were ceramics, choir, dance, theatre and so many other options that I never thought about,” Breanna smiled. 

Scanning the forms, she noticed in the bottom right-hand corner a box labeled Ag-Physical Science. “It was one of the only times I raised my hand in class and I asked the counselor what Ag-Physical Science meant.” His response? “It’s great; you get to play with plants all day.” 

On her first day of Ag class she was met with a booming voice. “Welcome to the Future Farmers of America!” The innate enthusiasm was enough to convince her that she was in the wrong place. She quickly began looking for an exit plan. “My first thought was, “First off, I’m not a farmer. And second, I have all this crazy hair,”” laughed Breanna. Her first opportunity to change classes was a bust. The next day, before she could opt out of the class, her future FFA advisor, Mrs. Freeman, convinced her to stick it out and encouraged her to join FFA. 

“Mrs. Freeman came to me and said she saw potential in me. She asked me if I would be interested in a public speaking contest. It was a leadership development event through FFA called Creed Speaking, in which we had to recite the five-paragraph FFA creed from memory in front of a group,” shared Breanna. She felt her shyness creep in, and even though she bombed the speech she fell in love with public speaking. “My love for not only public speaking but also agriculture soared. It was my chapter advisor, program, and community that provided so much direction in my FFA career. They are why I am here today.” Using her first experience with public speaking as motivation, she pushed forward, becoming heavily involved in FFA. 

New Interests, New Opportunities
As a dynamic youth organization, FFA embodies its mission to change the lives of youth while preparing them for the future. Through leadership roles to personal growth and personal success, FFA offers members diverse agricultural education programs. FFA strives to develop members’ potential and helps them discover talents that they never knew they had. 

This rang true for Breanna as she continued to explore her newfound interests in urban agriculture. Her first brush with urban agriculture was when she worked on a supervised agricultural experience, or SAE. For her first SAE she raised chickens at home. She would also go on to do numerous SAEs including another SAE called Camp Full Belly Farm, in which she developed an organic farm camp that educated elementary students on where their food comes from, showing youth how food goes from seed to farm to table.  

In 2015, after graduating from Tokay High School, she enrolled at California State University, Chico, majoring in agriculture education with an emphasis on urban agriculture. However, she would eventually decide to run for state FFA office. Slated against 90 people, officers take a test and then are cut down to 36 candidates; from there it goes to 12. To be chosen for the position of secretary she would give a speech; Breanna’s centered on current events and pop culture. She created her own radio station, 192.8, because FFA was founded in 1928, and even wrote a rap song. She won the election, and her role as secretary provided a new opportunity to travel with six other officers, giving speeches, speaking with the agricultural professionals and inspiring youth across the country to believe in their own abilities. 

Leadership Culture
Being an officer in FFA is something she finds both inspiring and challenging. “I think when you become an FFA member you become a part of something bigger than yourself. You’re automatically welcomed into an organization that is so inclusive and doesn’t look at people as a number, but as an individual. Even with thousands of members, everyone has an opportunity to do what they want to do. They give us the tools, the knowledge and opportunities but it’s your job to take what you have learned and apply it to life,” Breanna affirmed. 

 In 2017, she decided to run for the national FFA office. After applying for national office, she began to prepare for the rigorous election process, and she was chosen as one of the six of the initial 48 members to run for the National FFA presidency. Because only one person can represent the state of California, she took her new opportunity as a challenge and honor. “I couldn’t believe it when they announced that I won the election for president of the National FFA!” she enthused. “It was such an amazing moment, one that I’m honored to hold.”

Presidential Service
Taking on the role of president of the National Future Farmers of America is no easy feat. It requires steadfast dedication to her fellow FFA members and to the organization that she represents so well. Her role as president means she will travel over 100,000 miles, nationally and internationally, to interact with industry leaders, thousands of FFA members and teachers, corporate sponsors, government officials, state FFA leaders, the public and many more. She will help lead training conferences, give over 60 speeches, 100 workshops and help to set policies that will help establish guidelines for the future of FFA and promote agricultural information. 

“Through my year of service, I aspire to learn more about agriculture and life in general,” said Breanna. “I hope I’m able to broaden students’ scope of what they think they can accomplish and get them to see what they really can do with their incredible experiences, personalities and strengths. I hope to challenge students to think differently, ask why and be open to diverse backgrounds. 

“I hope to create a community of honest communication and positivity amongst my fellow teammates and offer a loving and supportive hand whenever they need it the most.”