Potato season is just around the corner for my family. In a few short weeks, our yard will be as busy as Grand Central Station with semis coming and going, field trucks unloading, and my family and me doing our part of the process. I’ve always loved the hustle and bustle that comes with the season, but throughout my growing up years, I seemed to have a hard time finding my place in it. As a four and five-year-old, I spent much of my time in the harvester with my dad watching as he carefully loaded each truck. As I got older though, I wanted to be on the sorting line so that I could separate the good potatoes from the damaged ones and work with our older employees (or maybe it was just because they’d pack extra cookies in their lunches for me). Despite my attempts to get a spot on the line, my dad wouldn’t let me. He said that it wasn’t safe for me yet because I could get my fingers caught. Very disappointed, I found my place riding in the trucks or in the tractor’s buddy seat with my dad for that year.
The next year came, and again I asked if I could have a spot on the sorting line. After all, I was six now. Dad was hesitant until he saw how easily I could climb into the truck boxes and push down any stuck potatoes. Seeing that sold him; he showed me where it was safe and not safe to put my hands and told me how to sort. Finally, I was on the crew! In my new position as junior junk picker, I worked very diligently to make sure no cornstalks, rocks, or bad potatoes would get past me, and anytime a truck didn’t unload very well, I was right there to help clean it out. I had my spot.
As I grew older, I became less content with my job as a junk picker and decided that I wanted to learn how to drive field trucks. So, at 12 years old, my dad put me with one of our farm’s best truck drivers to teach me how to drive a potato truck alongside the harvester. I enjoyed that spot too and stayed there for a long time until I was finally old enough to get my Commercial Driver’s License. Now, I haul semis of sorted potatoes to wash plants all over Minnesota.
Over the last 12 years, I’ve had a lot of spots within potato harvest. Each position had its own unique challenges and many skills for me to master. What I learned at each step helped prepare me for what was coming next, but it wasn’t always easy to accept where I was. When I was 4 and 5, I wanted to be on the line. Once I was on the line, I wanted a spot in a field truck which led to me wanting a spot in a semi. Every role seemed so significant until I got there. As a result, I quickly worked to master whatever it was I was doing so I could do the next, bigger, and (what I thought to be a) more important job.
Potato harvest doesn’t work like that though. Although certain people supervise certain areas, being on the potato crew is more like being a piece of a puzzle than a rung on ladder. Each piece has a unique and equally important role in creating the full picture. At each phase, our team members can make the product great or make a mistake that could cost us money, time, or result in injury.
Sometimes in FFA, and in other aspects of life, it looks and feels like we’re just the bottom rung on a ladder. Maybe you’re a dishwasher at a restaurant, a gas station attendant, or working for local farms picking rocks. You might be a chapter member who is wondering where your place in FFA is. You might be a chapter or region officer wondering if what you do matters. You might be like me trying to figure out exactly what you’re going to do when you’re done with school. Maybe you’re just trying to find your spot in the world.
Regardless of where you’re at on the ladder right now, we’re all part of the puzzle of life. Our employer needs us and every employee to do the job well and support each other. Our chapter needs us to share our voice, volunteer for chapter events, and bring others along with us. Every piece, job, and person was created and is in existence for a reason. Sometimes it just takes time to discover what that reason is and to fully appreciate our role in creating the bigger picture. As we prepare to start this next school year, let’s take time to think about the piece of the puzzle we complete, our importance in that role, and how we can help others find their place.