Adam Torres and Benita Hodge discuss Texas FFA.
Apply to be a guest on our podcast here
Texas FFA provides a safe place for young leaders to grow skills in areas like leadership and public speaking. In this episode, Adam Torres interviewed Benita Hodge, Survey Administrator at USDA-NASS. Explore the FFA and how it allowed her to pursue a successful career in agriculture, along with Benita’s new book, Mission Matters: Mission-Based Leaders Share Inspiring Stories on Leadership and Success (Texas Leaders Edition Vol. 1).
Watch Full Interview:
About Benita Hodge
Benita Hodge knew early on that she had an affinity for the natural world. In the rural area of Texas where she grew up, she spent time with her grandparents caring for what she calls a “small acreage.” When she sought out her high school’s FFA chapter, Hodge felt an immediate sense of belonging.
Benita joined FFA immediately. Connecting with her Ag teachers in horticulture and animal sciences, competing at national events, and joining a professional network made up of producers, engineers, educators, and more led Benita to discover her passion for statistics. According to her,, the “accountability, responsibility, professionalism and leadership” skills she gained in FFA gave her a competitive edge. A series of strategic internships led her to her first job at the USDA, where she has worked ever since.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres and I’m so thrilled and excited to be at the 95th Annual Texas F F A convention. We are in Dallas, Texas, and let me tell you, I’m excited. We’re celebrating our recent book release that we did with the Texas F F A and I have one of the authors with me today, Benita Hodge, who is also a, um, survey administrator over at U S D A nas.
Um, Benita. First I just wanna say, hey, welcome and congrats on becoming a published author. Thank you very much. It’s such an honor and a privilege. Alright, so we got a lot to talk about today for people that have been watching this series, we’re trying to shed light on what’s this magic going on at the Texas f f a.
Like, why are, why are so many people excited about in Texas and like, how do we get that message out there? So lots to cover. And maybe just to get us started here, like how did you learn about Texas f f A, um, to start out, like, where’d all that begin for you? Ironically enough, I just had a natural love for, for planting animals.
So I enrolled in, uh, curriculum at school. It was called Science Academy and it was an agricultural curriculum, so I didn’t know anything about the F F A at that time. But thank God for my ag teachers who eventually, I don’t know what they, the ag yo on the ag teachers, I told that the ag teachers are like the, the gateway to all of them.
They are the gateway. I don’t know if they saw this shy little girl, you know, uh, in class and with. With potential and reached out and, and said, I should be a part of this organization. I didn’t know what I was getting to at the time. Mm-hmm. But it really propelled me along the way. So that’s where I got my, my, my start at.
And I thank my ag teachers to this day for mm-hmm. Just reaching out and, and engaging me, uh, to be a part of the ffa. Yeah. Big shout out to the ag teachers out there that are working so hard. Thank you. Lisa Pee and Adrian Pilger. I’d have to give them a shout out. Awesome. So, okay, so now let’s go further in the story.
So you, you learn about the Texas F f A, you join, what happens next? You join and you start at the green hen level. Mm-hmm. That’s their entry level, uh, into the, into the chapter. But you don’t just join, you actually participate. Mm-hmm. And so there’s so many, uh, ways to engage with their judging contests.
And most people think of agriculture, oh, I need land, I need Yeah. Animals. I need to have property. I didn’t have any of those. Mm-hmm. So, but the F F A didn’t limit, uh, my opportunities to be engaged with those, uh, type of activities. I did do some judging. I also, uh, did you grow up in the ag kind of household family?
Like how I, I did my, my dad had a career, I still has a career in agriculture in the natural resources side, and he grew up, Of course in ag and my grandparents are really the foundation. They had not a big plot of land mm-hmm. But some small vegetable gardens. And I just enjoyed, uh, going out, being outside, uh, helping them.
And the first time I tell this story all the time, the first time I helped my grandmother plant some tomato plants. Mm-hmm. And I actually got to see the seed go, go in the ground. See it come up as a plant and then when you get that first Yeah. Bite of the fruit. Real food. Yes. Yes. And it nourishes the body.
Yeah. So I was hooked from, from, from day one after that. And so I love helping them, uh, in their vegetable gardens to see things grow. Mm-hmm. And I was, I was just hooked from then on on. So, One of the big things that f f a, at least I know it for, is like cultivating the youth, right? Mm-hmm. And, and when we think about skills like leadership mm-hmm.
Like, uh, public speaking Yes. Like, where did you fall kind of in that whole world? Well, yeah, and that’s, that’s really, like I said, I didn’t have the land or the animals, uh, uh, growing up. And so I was able to participate in chapter conducting, learning how to run meetings. It really helped me in my confidence in, in speaking in front of a group, you know?
Mm-hmm. Uh, I didn’t. Do that naturally. But being a part of the F f A, you felt like you were part of a family, uh, a team. So you felt safe to do that in that setting. And it helped me come out of my shell. Mm-hmm. And there’s ample leadership opportunities and. Leading your own projects. Mm-hmm. Uh, working with other students as a team judging chapter conducting, uh, job interview skills you get to, so the F F A doesn’t just help with the education piece, but it also helps with personal growth and, and success in any career path.
Yeah. And so a lot of people that haven’t been here, I like, I’m gonna give ’em kind of a, a little, a little teaser. Mm-hmm. Like what’s your favorite part of convention? Having, I mean, gone through the system? I mean, you were in there now, you’re as an adult coming back still, like what keeps you coming back?
Yeah. I just love to see the excitement. I was watching a group of, uh, chapter, uh, down yeah. Below downstairs, you know, just admire their. Excitement mm-hmm. Coming together, you know, work hard every day on their, their projects and their teams. And they come to state or even nationals and can celebrate their wins and just the comradery and respect they have for each other.
Uh, getting along and coming together to support and encourage mm-hmm. Uh, one another. So I love to see the students’ excitement. Mm-hmm. Especially when you get to that. Convention floor. Yeah. And to see the crowds and the sea of blue and gold. I actually brought my sister for the first, this was her first f f a convention.
Oh, wow. Uh, state convention. So I was like, you just, everybody needs to just taste Mm uh, taste a little bit of this. Yeah. I had my, I had my little couple seconds of, of shine on the, on the stage last year when I, and I got to say a couple of words and that was, that was. So much fun. And I was just like, the excitement, the energy, like it’s a lot.
And the professionalism, you know? Yeah. It’s just not something just thrown together a lot of time. And am I right that the kids too, speaking of that, like the, the, the, the members I should say, um, they’re the, they’re the ones running this show. They run it. Yes. Yes. It’s all, so just think about for context, for everybody watching this, you know, there’ll be 15,000, I don’t know, give or take, um, people at this convention, huge convention.
Lots of moving parts. I mean, hundreds of, um, I mean the speakers, the, this, the, that, like the programming is intense. It rivals any business conference I’ve been to and I’ve been to ’em all over the world. And, uh, this is put on by, by young adults. It is. And again, the sea of blue jackets just gets you. Yeah.
You know, and I knew my sister when she first came. Yeah. You know, she was gonna see that, like, look at the name, like where’s this group from? Where’s this to see? Just from all over the state. Yeah. So one of the things that I, I’m always curious about here, ’cause I don’t know, again, I’m an outsider. I’m just getting to know this year two, I’m coming back year three already decided.
I think that one’s gonna be in Houston, if I’m not mistaken. Um, next year. Uh, The amount of prep that goes into these presentations and all of these, like, like for somebody watching this, I don’t, we’re not gonna have footage on this, but, but like for them to show like, and to be able to demonstrate and do what they’re doing, whether it’s the debate side of things, and I’m probably using the wrong words.
But maybe could you give me a little bit of a, a flavor of what that was like? Yeah. It takes a lot of time and effort on the students to not just work. And that’s what I love about the F F A. It’s not just, it’s education beyond the classroom. Mm-hmm. So it’s a lot of hours outside of the classroom working on projects diligently, um, spending time, going over your speeches, working with their animals, you know, getting up in the wee hours.
Of the morning and feed, you know, so it’s, it, it takes a lot of time and care, and I think that’s why the students are so passionate about, you know, when they get to get to this level and mm-hmm. Wanna go on to, to, to nationals, that mm-hmm. Um, it’s, it’s more than just a, a, a task, you know, it’s, it’s. It’s an impact and they put their heart and soul into it.
Mm-hmm. And it seems to me like there’s, there’s room for many different interests here. Mm-hmm. So you mentioned animals on one side, obviously agriculture on another. The, whether it’s business through speaking mm-hmm. Or through leadership or like, there’s no like one size fits all f f a, there’s no one size fits all.
There’s so many different competitions. If someone is looking into, go into to law, you know, there’s ag issues. Mm-hmm. Looking at the landscape of how the laws affect. Agriculture and land and, um, you know, livestock industry. Mm-hmm. Um, there’s so many different, uh, avenues that people can go into. It’s not just production, production, production, agriculture.
So speaking to the, uh, let’s just say that there might, there might be some students that get this somehow, some way they’re on YouTube, they’re looking around and maybe they, maybe they see this, um, somebody in, you know, way back when they’re thinking about joining, they’re thinking about getting involved.
Like what would be your message to them? Join, I would say definitely join. You never know what you are gonna like until you try it. Mm-hmm. So it’s, it’s, you may find that you really like it, but you can’t knock something until you try it. Um, I would definitely say join. You just don’t know where those opportunities will, mm-hmm.
Will take you. I didn’t know where they were gonna take. Uh, take me. I and I, I got active in just about everything I could within the f f A to expose myself to different things, and I was exposed to things that I didn’t even know existed. And like you said, same. I’m learning every convention I’m learning.
I mean, yes, there’s, you know, turf grass management. Mm-hmm. There’s, you know, Livestock issues, there’s food and nutrition. Mm-hmm. Even if you’re gonna be a dietician, there’s animal nutrition, but just nutrition in general. Mm-hmm. Um, of what we eat from the land ourselves, not just the animals. So, yeah. Um, there’s so many different, so many different avenues to, to take and if you just wanna be a part of a family where you can grow internally and develop mm-hmm.
You know, if you’re not comfortable speaking, try, try your, is a safe place. Yeah. To, to, to test those talents. So. And this affected, I mean, for context. So this, um, for everybody watching this, I mean, this affected your, your entire life. I mean, now you, after you graduated Texas f f a, you kept going down that path mm-hmm.
Up until what you’re doing now at U SS D A nas. Mm-hmm. I mean, maybe tell us a little bit more about that. Yes. My whole career has been around, uh mm-hmm. Agriculture, and again, I. Love the, the physical side of it, but, um, as now I’m an agricultural statistician survey administrator, and I’m looking more at the, at the numbers, you know, and, uh, within our agency, you know.
Mm-hmm. A lot of decisions are made regardless if we have information. So, um mm-hmm. We’re passionate about getting information so better decisions can be made. Yeah. And, and that’s what we do with, uh, looking at, uh, what we produce here in the us. Um, so. Good decisions can be made based off of, of accurate.
Numbers. Can you gimme a just a little glimpse of what that looks like? ’cause I know you go through this a little bit in the book, by the way. Everybody pick up a copy. But, uh, like in terms the, like the kind of numbers and what you’re forecasting or what you’re looking at? Yeah. So just, uh, in general, uh, if you all have it or if you do have land now, you probably have received this census of agriculture.
So we just wrap that up for the 22, uh, 2022 production year. Mm-hmm. And so it is a, um, Complete census of all the farms in the us. Mm-hmm. So what are, what sounds like, it sounds like a small project, pretty small, little, you know? Yeah. Yeah. Right. And so with, with that information, it’s amazing. We’re able to tell, you know, how much cattle is being produced.
Mm-hmm. You know, how much, uh, corn mm-hmm. Soybeans from field crops, vegetables, livestock, uh, what all is. We producing that way, that information, we, it, it works with supply, supply and demand and that, so we do put out different forecasts mm-hmm. Uh, yield forecasts throughout the year. Mm-hmm. Um, and just try to keep up in the, we have one, uh, uh, report, uh, is our, uh, crop stocks reports.
Mm-hmm. Or our ag surveys. And so we start at the beginning of the year looking at, uh, intentions of what the farmers are gonna plant. And we take that all the way to the end of the year, uh, for what is, uh, produced through production. So, So, so a lot of, a lot of, a lot of numbers, they call us the fact finders of US agriculture.
Yeah. So just about any aspect, uh, you can go to ww dot usda dot n and find, uh, uh, dot gov and find, uh, our numbers. So, That’s awesome. Mm-hmm. So let, let’s talk a little bit about the book. So yes, that’s what I’m excited about. So there we go. There we go. Come on. Yes. So what do you hope that, I mean, a lot of different things, you could have talked about a lot of different angles you could have come from, like, like tell us a little bit more about why you chose your, your topic.
Mm-hmm. And uh, and what you hope your readers would get out of it. Yes. I think the best. Thing that you can tell anybody is about your own personal experience. Mm-hmm. So I chose to tell my story and how, uh, f f a and agriculture has impacted my life, like you said, where I got my start. Um, that was the best thing I could offer the students is my, uh, experience.
So I told a little bit about my story and my f f A career in high school. Mm-hmm. Um, and also given just some tips, tips on leadership, and um, just. Looking at the book from start to, yeah. To from cover, to cover is just amazing. There’s so many nuggets in there and just some of the congruency across the, uh, the groups.
And if I had this book at yeah, at this level, um, there’s no telling where I would be. So it’s got a lot of good, uh, nuggets in there to, to. Put you on your way. You’d be far well advanced, uh, with, with knowledge from, from reading this book. Ah, that’s awesome. As a youth. Yes. Well, we’re, well, we’re a absolutely thrilled to have you in the book and it’s really an honor to publish your work and to get it out to all of our readers.
We want you to definitely go pick up a copy. Like you will not be disappointed. Texas Leaders Volume One. Um, it, it. It’s a great book. Yes. Well, Bonita, I just wanna say it has been, thank you for coming on the show first. Um, and, and so nice to finally meet you in person. Yes. I mean, working on a book with somebody for a while and like, oh, we finally all get to meet.
Exactly. And it was, uh, been great working with you and, uh, thanks again for coming on the show. Yes, thanks for having me. Such a pleasure to honor and, uh, congratulate all the other authors as well.