Joshua Toft never expected to study agriculture education. In fact, the 19-year-old from a tiny town in Illinois had no farming background at all and aspired to be a chemist like his dad. Little did he know that he would go on to be selected one of 12 national ambassadors for the National Association of Agriculture Educators and participate in one of the biggest agricultural conventions in America.
In high school, Toft ended up in his first agriculture class almost by accident. He was thinking about taking band but didn’t play an instrument, so he signed up for an ag class. Soon, he was hooked. He joined the FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) chapter at his school. By his senior year, he became chapter president, working with over 120 kids from three schools in his area. “I just kept getting more and more involved every year,” Toft said.
Due to more unexpected events, Toft was placed as an assistant to one of the agricultural teachers for a term. He assisted with classes and worked with the students, but wasn’t convinced agriculture would ever play a big part in his future. However, his teacher and FFA advisor encouraged him to explore agriculture education as a career. “She had this uncanny ability to see potential in people,” Toft said, and she ended up predicting his path correctly. Today, he credits her as the reason he ended up where he did.
After taking some chemistry courses in college, Toft met with an agriculture advisor at MSU. He knew immediately that majoring in agriculture was what he wanted to do. “I wanted to do something that I could make a difference in,” he said. Soon, he declared an Agriculture education major and applied to the National Teach Agriculture Campaign. After being one of the lucky 12 selected to represent the campaign, he trained with the National Teach Agriculture Campaign and his fellow representatives over the summer and went to the national FFA convention in October, which had an estimated attendance of 60,000 students. He and the other ambassadors ran a booth, attended professional development workshops and explored the convention.
Toft hopes to become an agriculture teacher and encourage other students to think about the importance of agriculture in our society. “For me, it wasn’t about making a ton of money, it was about making a difference in a visible, direct way,” he said. In agriculture education, they have a saying: “It’s not about the income, it’s about the outcome.” One perk of the job is that it includes an incredibly diverse range of subjects. Agriculture teachers need to know everything from plant and animal science to the history of agriculture to construction and welding. Additionally, Toft noted, “there’s always a job, there’s always a need for it.”
Toft and the other ambassadors will spend the year writing blog posts and contributing to the National Teach Agriculture social media pages with the option of leading workshops if they want to. Each ambassador has their own hashtag on social media, and Toft’s suits him perfectly. Next time you come across the National Teach Ag Ambassador page on Facebook, make sure to look out for #teachwithheart. More information can be found at nae.org and ffa.org.