Fifty years ago, FFA opened its membership to women at the 1969 National FFA Convention. This made it possible for women to hold office and participate in competitive events regionally and nationally. As a proud sponsor of FFA for 76 years, John Deere celebrates the contributions women have made to the organization.
For many John Deere employees, participating in FFA was a formative part of their lives. This is true of three outstanding John Deere women who held key leadership roles in the FFA. They are each still active with the FFA today, helping to grow the next generation of FFA members.
It was 1935 when the idea of giving women full membership in FFA was proposed at the national FFA convention. It didn’t go over well.
But the push for female membership certainly didn’t end there. For the next 30 years, women were added at the state and local levels of the organization. Then in 1969, FFA removed the word “male” from its constitution. Women were officially in at all levels of the FFA.
Years later three current John Deere employees — Emily Priebe, Brea Harms, and Amelia VanLandegen — would each join FFA while in high school, an experience that would profoundly shape their lives and futures.
“I assume the fact that the motion passed (in 1969) means the delegates understood the value that diversity brings,” said Harms. “There’s something to be said about being courageous, doing difficult things, and valuing people who are different than you, and I’m fortunate that folks had that courage and valued diversity, as I wouldn’t be where I am personally or professionally without what I learned and did during my time in FFA.”
VanLandegen said she’s seen the progress for women firsthand. During her time as an FFA section president, four of the five major state officers were also women. Most of the FFA teams she competed on were also mainly comprised of females.
“It shows how we embraced opportunities. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I had in FFA,” VanLandegan said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without FFA.”
Priebe said the 50th anniversary is a milestone she’s proud to be part of.
“The national blue and corn gold FFA experience has shaped every area of my life,” she said. “It’s an honor to be affiliated with an organization that values all agriculturalists invested in furthering our industry.”
All three women are not only successful in their careers at Deere, they’re also still heavily involved in the FFA. Over 300 Deere employees belong to the John Deere FFA Alumni and Supporters chapter, which started in 2014.
“The chapter’s mission is to enable John Deere employees to make a difference and develop future leaders by contributing through gifts of time, talent, and financial resources to the FFA at the local, state, and national levels,” said Amy Allen, manager – Corporate Sponsorships.
Emily Priebe – Once in a lifetime
Emily Priebe joined the FFA while growing up in Shoshoni, Wyoming, a town of about 600 people in the central part of the state. Her dad, a former FFA state officer, inspired her to join.
She went on to become a state FFA officer and then, while studying at the University of Wyoming, she ran to become a national FFA officer and was elected secretary in the early 2000s.
Priebe was an ambassador for the FFA, meeting with students and industry leaders, as well as President George W. Bush. As a national officer, she also helped plan and facilitate the national FFA convention.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Priebe said, “one I’m eternally grateful for.”
But it was the day she visited John Deere World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois, as a national FFA officer that changed the course of her journey. Priebe had wanted to work for Deere ever since she was in junior high school.
“I remember that day when we were outside headquarters,” Priebe recalled. “I was overwhelmed and speechless that I was even there. FFA had created these opportunities. Not every farm girl from Wyoming finds herself walking into the corporate headquarters of a place she had dreamed about.”
Priebe earned an internship with Deere and has since moved up through the company, holding many different roles. In each position, she’s used many different lessons and experiences she gained from FFA.
Even with her busy schedule, Priebe still finds time to give back by mentoring young FFA members back in Wyoming.
“I was fortunate enough to have others invest in me, and I consider it an important part of developing future leaders to do the same,” Priebe said. “Young women and men need to see how a path can be forged in their future, and mentoring is a part of that process. I’m humbled to be able to partner with FFA members as they mold their futures and the future of our industry.”
Brea Harms – Investing in young people
Brea Harms grew up about 40 miles south of Chicago in Kankakee County, Illinois. No one in her family was a farmer, but she had “an amazing ag teacher” in high school who inspired many students to join FFA.
“We had 370 students in my high school, and 110 were in ag education and FFA,” Harms noted. “With relevant class content and a teacher who connected and invested in the students, ag classes were sought out by a huge cross-section of students.”
After high school, Harms became an FFA state officer in Illinois for a year.
Like Priebe, she took a year off of college, spending much of her year with students. She visited high schools throughout Illinois, including all high school ag programs in the Chicago Public School system.
After serving as a state officer in the late 1990s, Harms went on to attain a degree in ag business from the University of Illinois, where she also earned her master’s degree and teacher’s certification in agricultural education, which she keeps active to this day.
“If it was not for ag education and my ag teacher and FFA, I can guarantee 100 percent I would not be professionally and personally where I am,” said Harms, who is now a division manager customer support for John Deere Construction & Forestry.
Harms has stayed active with FFA and ag education, including serving as a charter member and past president of the John Deere FFA Alumni and Supporters chapter.
“I struggle to think of myself as a role model or mentor,” Harms said. “I’m just trying to ‘pay it forward’ by investing in folks like others invested in me, regardless of gender.”
Amelia VanLandegen – Making connections
Amelia VanLandegen, who is from Orion, Illinois (a small town in northwest Illinois), was the fourth generation in her family to grow up on her family’s farm and second generation to join FFA. Through her involvement in FFA and ag communications, VanLandegen went on to write for local newspapers while in high school. She also was reporter for her FFA chapter for a year.
“I found that I really loved writing,” she said.
She won FFA awards for her Supervised Agricultural Experience program, which included her writing, at the state and national levels in 2010. This year she’s returning to the National FFA Convention as a judge for the same award she won for writing. At the University of Illinois, VanLandegen majored in agricultural communications with an emphasis in news editorial.
FFA also helped influence where she chose to work after college.
“What I liked about Deere is they valued hands-on ag experience,” VanLandegen said. “They knew about FFA, it was recognized, and you could tell it was important.”
VanLandegen is now co-vice president for the John Deere FFA Alumni and Supporters chapter. In that role she is working to create volunteer opportunities for Deere employees to work with local FFA advisors/ag teachers.
“To me, it’s important to show FFA members the possibilities for careers in agriculture and construction and forestry, plus everything Deere has to offer,” she said. “I also point out that the skills gained from FFA prepare you for everything in your future, especially your career.”
She noted that even Deere employees who weren’t part of FFA growing up now see its importance to youth and agriculture and want to be involved in the alumni chapter.
“Overall, I’m very proud of Deere’s involvement in FFA and that I work for a company that values FFA as much as it does,” VanLandegen said. “At Deere, it’s almost like we have a waiting list of people to go to the (National FFA) Convention every year. We never have a hard time finding people. Everyone wants to be there.”
What’s the magnetic appeal of the FFA convention?
“There is such a rush of being there with all the students,” VanLandegen explained. “Who doesn’t want to be around it? The future is exciting. These young people are our future.”