Kourtney Lehman | Agricultural Business Management | Senior | Baker City, OR
2019-2020 National FFA Secretary
Farm-Bred and Service-Led
I spent the first years of my early childhood on our family's dairy in Parma, Idaho, and loved every moment of it. My parents always said that I was obsessed with the cows and tried to name every single one. My first word was even "moo". When I was in second grade, my family left the dairy industry and moved to Baker City, Oregon to farm. This is where I found my passion for production agriculture. Working alongside my father and brother, I was able to experience the joys and discomforts of farming. Having both of them as my boss, I learned a lot about operating and fixing equipment, but more importantly I learned the value of a strong work ethic and a humble attitude.
Outside of the farm life, I am extremely passionate about community service. Growing up in a smaller community, everyone felt like a neighbor, which meant that everyone took care of one another. Throughout high school I was very involved in youth group and Future Farmers of America (FFA), both of which provided ample opportunities to give back to my community. I was able to do everything from working with the homeless population in Los Angeles and Portland to raising thousands of dollars for a community member in need through our FFA chapter's "Helping Hands Barbecue." Every experience involving service reminded me not only how many blessings I have in my life, but also how a little bit of intentional effort can make a massive impact on someone's life.
My favorite hobbies include binge-watching "Friends" on Netflix and baking cinnamon rolls.
Born to It
Agriculture has been a part of my life since the day I was born. Whether it was helping Grandma bottle feed our Holstein calves while wearing diapers and boots, or spending my high school summer mornings and nights raking or baling hay, I have always held the life of an agriculturist close to my heart. It is one of few industries that people rely on for survival instead of convenience. Growing up, I witnessed my dad work over twenty hours a day just to make sure that families across the nation had food on their table and clothes on their backs. Seeing the amount of sacrifice he made helped me realize the impressive value of the industry and fostered my passion for agriculture. I chose to major in agricultural & food business management at Oregon State University (OSU) because I want to play a role in strengthening the future of agriculture. I believe the people involved in this industry work incredibly hard to make sure the world is taken care of. It is my hope that my studies at OSU will prepare me with the necessary knowledge and skills to make the lives of agriculturists around the world easier as they strive to feed and clothe a population of nine billion by 2050.
The (Inter)national Stage
This past year, I served as the 2019-2020 National FFA Secretary. I have since retired from National Office and, looking back on my year of service, I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. This year of travel took me places I never imagined I would go…even though at times that was through a virtual platform (Thanks, COVID). Amongst my favorite moments was a trip to Japan. Here we met with farmers, students, businesses, and countless other figures. I was blown away by numerous beautiful aspects of this culture: The friendliness of individuals, the detail behind every element, the pride taken in doing one’s part, the passion for agriculture, and so much more. I loved every second learning about the history and people of Japan. But really, that is no surprise. I quickly learned that’s the best part about traveling: Constantly immersing yourself in a new culture and community.
Whether it was exploring the hidden beaches of Hawaii, staring in awe at the exquisiteness of Mount Rushmore, navigating through the busy streets of D.C., or witnessing alligators in the swamps of Florida, this year was full of constant adventure. But, no matter how exciting the adventure, I found myself most amazed by the people I encountered and the stories they shared. There is so much that can be learned from someone else’s experience if we just take the time to listen. This really came into play when my travels were brought to a halt with the outbreak of COVID-19. Instead of hopping on an airplane every few days, I would travel to 3-4 states a day through the realm of Zoom. Sure, this wasn’t as exciting as physically being in the communities I was meeting with, but I still had the chance to hear the stories of some incredible individuals.
As exciting as travel is, it’s not always about the places we go. It’s about the people we meet.
Farewell Address at the 2020 National FFA Convention & Expo
In five years, I hope to have completed law school, and to be advocating for the industry and defending agriculturists across the nation. Agricultural science will play a major role in helping me get there by laying the foundation of knowledge and experiences that better prepare me to continue my academic journey. Even though I grew up surrounded by agriculture, I have so much more to learn about the industry. Being part of the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU has allowed me to discover sides of the agriculture industry I never even knew existed. Between the clubs I have been able to participate in and the experiences I have had in the classroom, I continue to feel more capable and excited in pursuing my passion to advocate for agriculture.
Beating the Clock
One of my greatest challenges in continuing my education has been the dreaded early morning classes. In all honesty, I am not a morning person, so 8AM classes are extremely difficult for me to focus during. Besides using a trip to Dutch Bros as my motivation to get out of bed for class, I have learned to establish a routine for those early mornings to help myself wake up properly. Also, when it comes time to register for classes I try to be mindful of my strengths and weaknesses when picking my schedule. I can't always avoid the early classes, but when possible I do everything I can to schedule classes for times that will make my learning experience optimal.
One of the most life-changing experiences I have encountered is traveling to South Africa for the International Seminar for State Officers offered by the National FFA Organization. For the trip, seventy-five FFA state officers traveled to different areas of South Africa exploring the culture, people, and agriculture industry. I learned a lot of different things while on this trip, but two lessons really impacted my life. The first lesson is that feeding and clothing the world needs to be an international effort. There are way too many people in this world going hungry. We have to find ways to work together as an agriculture community, both across the nation and internationally, to ensure that producers have access to research and equipment necessary to complete their jobs.
Asking for Help
My biggest piece of advice for incoming students is to not be afraid to communicate with professors. As intimidating as some professors can be, they genuinely want us to succeed in their course. My first term at OSU I struggled way more than I needed to because I was too nervous to stop by office hours when I needed more help from my professors, but once I found the courage to advocate for myself I realized that most of my professors gladly took the time to answer questions and offer assistance. As awkward and embarrassed as most of us feel when we need more help, it is definitely worth reaching out for clarification when needed.
Learn more about Kourtney's leadership style in her podcast interview with The Straws that Stir the Drinks.