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16-Year-Old Female Cattle Rancher Earns the Oregon FFA State Degree

Olivia Rooker's voice is calm and possesses the confidence of a seasoned professional woman. It's hard to believe that she is only 16. Even more shocking is the tiny frame dwarfed by, and commanding, the giant beast that is the steer she raised to show and sell at the fair.

This year, Olivia is one of a handful of high school students who earned the prestigious Oregon FFA State Degree. The FFA program, once referred to as Future Farmers of America, has now expanded to become a dynamic organization that prepares members for leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. While earning this degree is an accomplishment that requires hours spent in classes, on projects, and serving the community, the fact that Rooker has already positioned herself as a woman advocate in the heavily male-saturated agriculture industry at her young age is exceptional.

Olivia and her market steer, Phoenyx, show-ring exhibiting at the 2019 Deschutes County Fair. - MAKAYLA KAY-MARIE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Makayla Kay-Marie Photography
  • Olivia and her market steer, Phoenyx, show-ring exhibiting at the 2019 Deschutes County Fair.

Rooker shared her thoughts and experiences regarding the FFA during a short interview. Here is what she had to say.

Q: When and why did you decide to enter the FFA program?

OR: I've grown up around livestock and the livestock industry my entire life. My family and I moved here from Arizona in 2014 and my oldest sister joined FFA and introduced our family to it. Once I saw the opportunity and the experiences that she got through FFA, I was intrigued and knew that I wanted to start as soon as I could. I started as a Discovery Member in eighth grade.

Q: What is a Discovery Member?

OR: It's an opportunity for eighth-graders to get a head start in FFA...they can dip their toe into the program before they enter high school as a freshman and start to add classes.

Q: What does it take to get the Oregon State FFA Degree?

There are multiple degrees that you can acquire. It takes a buildup of the smaller degrees to get the State Degree. From the State Degree, I can choose to get the American Degree.

Q: What does being active in the program involve?

OR: I raise cattle... It requires raising livestock but, there are also CDEs and LDEs, which are career development events and leadership development events. For example, I've given three or four speeches over the course of my time being in FFA, and that's really improved my public speaking skills.

Q: What is one of the things you like most about the program?

OR: I just really enjoy the experiences and relationships that get built within the program. It's not just having Ag classes at the school, it's truly a family. We call it the FFA family. We make a lot of memories together whether it's going on road trips, going to contests or sitting in the Ag room talking about agriculture issues.

Q: What has challenged you the most?

OR: The biggest challenge has been the last year and a half with everything going on. Like I said, it's more of a family-type thing. We see each other every day so being apart and seeing each other over a screen has been really hard. It has really challenged our leadership skills. I'm on the Bend FFA officer team as well, and it's been hard for me and my teammates to build that bond because we got elected on a zoom call and we haven't really been able to do much team bonding.

Phoenyx and Olivia entering the auction ring one last time at the 2019 Deschutes County Fair and Youth Livestock Auction. - HALLIE UTTER PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Hallie Utter Photography
  • Phoenyx and Olivia entering the auction ring one last time at the 2019 Deschutes County Fair and Youth Livestock Auction.

Q: What are some ways you've learned to work around that and be innovative?

OR: We've really reached out and grasped onto social media a lot to reach our members and let them know we are all in this together.

Q: What did your specific project look like?

OR: Every year I raise a steer to show and sell at the county fair. I jackpot my steers around the state and often outside of the state in the springtime. Then come August, I show and sell them at the fair.

Q: What is it like being a female in this industry?

OR: It used to just be men or boys working on the farm and women inside...and I think it's really, truly an honor being a woman in agriculture and a woman advocate in agriculture. I am the youngest of three girls. It was me and my sisters and my mom for a long time and we had our livestock and learned to do it all on our own. It's very empowering because once my dad was gone, we just kind of had to learn to do it on our own. We picked it up, and we can haul our own hay and pick up our own grain and we can feed the cows in a blistering blizzard because we are tough enough to do it and we don't need a man.

Q: What does this degree mean to you

OR: I think it's a huge accomplishment. Eventually, I'd like to move on to receive my American Degree at the National FFA convention. And also, I can put this degree on future resumes or applications for jobs.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

OR: I hope to pursue a career in the agricultural field, whether it's in animal nutrition or being a cattle rancher or some type of feed rep. I know my background will help me.

Q: Is there anything you want to share about the program with other Bend families?

OR: I want to make sure that people know that FFA is not just farmers and ranchers, but every aspect of agriculture. From the meat that's on your plate and the food on your table, to the shirt on your back and the welding that goes on for the products that you use. It's just such a great program for kids to get involved in. They will gain skills and memories that they will have for a lifetime.

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