By Loren Lindler
Some may know the feeling of putting on that blue corduroy jacket and zipping it up for a FFA event, but very few people get to work amongst the sea of blue jackets each day. Katrina Jones, Executive Director of the Georgia FFA Foundation, is one of those few.
Jones embarked on her journey with Georgia FFA when she was in eighth grade at Swainsboro High School, and luckily for her and 73,000 Georgia FFA members, her journey is still going strong.
Jones' career with the Georgia FFA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that supports agricultural education and FFA in Georgia schools, has left a lasting impact on many students and agricultural education teachers.
Since Jones started with the foundation, over $13 million has been raised to support career and leadership programs, scholarship opportunities, and to support over 350 Georgia FFA chapters. In the 2019-2020 year alone, the team has raised over $1.7 million.
Rural Roots: Jones is from Kite, Georgia, a small town on the Johnson County and Emanuel County line. Though she lives on the same dirt road that she grew up on, when her and her husband, Tal, built their house, they moved just down the road from her childhood home, but now reside in Johnson County.
Jones grew up on her family’s farm, where she and her family now live. Her father and his brother owned and operated both a logging operation and a family farm.
"I loved growing up in a rural area, and I loved attending small schools. When I got married, I left Kite for ten years, but when we had the opportunity to return, we came back," said Jones. "I wanted to raise my two children in a rural area around family. I love everything about my small community… everyone knows everyone and they take care of each other."
Jones attended Swainsboro High School and graduated in 1987. She received her degree in agricultural communication from the University of Georgia in 1991, and her master's in agricultural education from Clemson University in 1992. Her husband, Tal, works in strategic sourcing for John Deere and they have two children - Gracie, a sophomore at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College majoring in agribusiness, and Harrison, a junior at Swainsboro High School.
What makes her a hero? Jones serves as the Executive Director of the Georgia FFA Foundation. The foundation works to provide leadership and career opportunities to over 73,000 FFA members in Georgia, including recognition for students that have excelled in their chosen area of interest in agriculture, travel scholarships, and leadership and post-secondary education scholarships. Georgia FFA is number three in the nation in membership, only behind Texas and California. As membership grows, the Foundation’s mission is to support more opportunities for Georgia FFA members.
A cause that is close to her heart: Jones joined FFA when she was in the eighth grade at Swainsboro High School, and says it was one of the best decisions she ever made. "It made me appreciate agriculture even more, and the leadership opportunities provided me with skills that have helped me throughout my entire career," she said.
Jones served as chapter sweetheart, reporter, secretary, vice president, and as the first female president of the Swainsboro Chapter. She served as a State FFA Officer in 1986-87. Jones also participated in Public Speaking, Forestry, Land Judging, Parliamentary Procedure, and local FFA events.
"Georgia FFA is close to my heart because I know the opportunities it can provide to students," said Jones. "Agriculture is Georgia’s number one industry. FFA is preparing students to be future farmers, agribusiness owners, foresters, entrepreneurs, scientists, the list goes on and on."
Jones also believes FFA plays a critical role in teaching students about ag literacy. Even if an FFA member does not choose a career in agriculture, they will know how their food and fiber is produced and agriculture’s importance to the economy.
"I also appreciate the values that FFA teaches young people. What you put in, is what you get out," she said. "FFA values a work ethic, along with other skills such as time management, responsibility, and dedication to a project."
Something she want every rural (and non-rural) Georgian to realize: Almost every rural community in Georgia has an agricultural education program. Jones believes we need students who are going to work and lead in their rural communities, but we also need those students to understand the impact of agriculture in those rural communities.
"FFA can open students’ eyes to the possibilities right in their own rural communities," said Jones.
There are agricultural education programs in non-rural areas in Georgia, too, and understanding the value and importance of agriculture is just as important in those areas as it is in rural Georgia.
Where she sees hope for rural communities: Jones sees hope for rural communities by continuing to educate the younger generation about the possibilities in their communities, whether those are in production agriculture, agricultural businesses, or other businesses. Though there are challenges to face, the next generation that Georgia FFA is educating will help solve those challenges.