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Virginia Tech student travels country as FFA president

Andrew Seibel ceremoniously pardoned the nation’s turkey at the White House last year and he hasn’t stopped moving since. Both his siblings have also held national FFA offices.

October 2023

Virginia Tech sophomore Andrew Seibel earned the title of president of the National FFA Organization at the 95th National FFA Convention and Expo in late October. He is the 13th national FFA officer from Virginia and only the fifth to earn the national president title. (Photo courtesy of FFA)

by Lindsey Hull, Cardinal News

Virginia Tech sophomore Andrew Seibel ceremoniously pardoned the nation’s turkey over Thanksgiving break. After taking a quick selfie with President Joe Biden, he was off to meet Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry.

He hasn’t stopped moving since, according to his father, Andy Seibel, who manage the 500-acre Mountain View Farm and Vineyard in Botetourt County.

In fall 2022, Andrew Seibel was selected as president of the National Future Farmers of America. His responsibilities include international and domestic travel, leading leadership conferences for youth and visiting with fellow FFA members.

“No two days look the same,” Andrew Seibel said.

President Joe Biden, FFA national secretary Jessica Herr of Pennsylvania and Andrew Seibel at the turkey pardoning event at the White House in November 2022. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Seibel and Virginia Tech)

Seibel’s term began with an international trip to South Africa. Six national FFA officers and two advisors traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town, learning about international agricultural education. They then returned to the United States to visit schools and camps around the country.

Each national officer travels 300 days, covering 150,000 miles and visiting 40 states, in the course of a year, according to Seibel. That much travel doesn’t leave a lot of time for school. National FFA officers are required to take a year off from school.

The road to a national FFA office is long, as candidates are vetted through a demanding and thorough process. Each state selects a national officer candidate, Andrew Seibel’s mother, Megan Seibel explained. After declaring their interest, candidates sit through a multi-day, multi-round interview process that involves one-on-one interviews, stakeholder interactions and facilitated workshops.

Andrew Seibel with Gov. Glenn Youngkin and first lady Suzanne Youngkin on the steps of the Executive Mansion in Richmond. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Seibel and Virginia Tech)

The competition is tight, with tie-breaking scores stretching to seven or eight decimal places, Megan Seibel said. “They don’t want it to be a popularity contest,” she said.

Recently, Andrew Seibel has spent time leading student workshops at North Carolina’s FFA leadership camp and at the Washington, D.C., FFA leadership conference. The proximity to home allowed Andrew to spend some time with sister Tess, who drove from her home in Durham, North Carolina, to Wilmington to visit with Andrew one recent weekend, Megan Seibel said.

Tess can relate to her brother’s busy schedule. For the first time in the organization’s history, Andrew and Tess Seibel are the first brother and sister pair of siblings to have both held National FFA offices, according to Megan Seibel. (Tess was the Eastern Region Vice President in 2019-2020.) Sister Claire Seibel has also held a National FFA position, her mother said. (Claire served as a student member of the national nominating committee in 2020.)

The Seibel siblings and their parents are a close-knit family. Megan, who grew up in a military home in Fairfax County, met Andy at a leadership conference in Virginia. Not long after, they married and started a family. They moved to Botetourt County to help care for the Seibel family farm in 2002, the same year Andy was hired as the Virginia FFA’s executive director.

Megan Seibel also works for the Virginia Tech FFA. She is the director of Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results, or VALOR, an agriculture-based leadership program for adults.

Andy and Megan Seibel would often take their young children along to FFA conferences. Megan Seibel said that’s where Tess, Claire and Andrew learned how to introduce themselves to others and behave properly in public. That’s also where each child first developed an interest in agricultural education.

The Seibel family. From left: Tess, Claire, Megan, Andy, Andrew Seibel. (Courtesy of Megan Seibel)

Andrew Seibel later took agriculture courses at Read Mountain Middle School and Lord Botetourt High School. Students in FFA are introduced to career skills such as public speaking and economics, in addition to more traditional agricultural topics related to production and manufacturing.

“Agriculture is a lot bigger than just farming as a career. It contains all of the science, technology, sales, mechanics, public speaking and everything else that goes with it,” Megan Seibel said.

Stuart Byrd has spent the last 30 years educating FFA students in addition to running his own Bedford County farm. Students in Byrd’s classes at Lord Botetourt High School learn parliamentary procedure, take on leadership roles across the state and become advocates in the classroom and throughout the larger school and community, according to Byrd.

As an FFA student, Andrew wasn’t sure what he wanted his role to look like, Megan Seibel said. “He was worried that people would assume he would do [FFA] his dad’s way or his sister’s way,” she explained. Once Andrew forged his own path as a quiet leader, he was much happier.

Andrew Seibel was one of Byrd’s agriculture students. “Andrew came in with blazes on,” Byrd said. Byrd can’t take much credit for Andrew’s instinctual knowledge of FFA values, he said. Those were instilled in him from a young age. “Andrew blazed his own trail. He learned how to relate to FFA members who didn’t have his background,” he said.

“That’s helped him get to where he is as a national officer. Andrew is not your stereotypical FFA member. Your background doesn’t matter – Andrew will find a way to relate to you,” Byrd said.

Now, Andrew Seibel tells kids to “bet on themselves,” challenging them to write their own stories. “A huge part of my story was realizing that I needed to lean into [being] my own person with my own values,” he said. He wants other students to realize that they will be happier if they remain true to themselves.

Seibel has seen significant personal growth as a leader during his tenure as National FFA president, he says. After spending a number of nights in lonely hotel rooms, he discovered the confidence to build connections with the large network of FFA members.

“As you start to travel, you start to realize that wherever you go, you have people wherever you are,” he said, recounting the time that fellow national officer candidate Landon Arnelo helped him out after Andrew slipped on ice at his first tour stop in Logan, Utah. “I was really lucky because I had some close friends out there,” he said.

“One of the most beautiful things about agricultural communities is that the people are there for each other,” Megan Seibel said.

She credits faith, family and hard work for helping to raise her children to succeed in such large leadership roles. Her children grew up differently from other kids, she said. They didn’t have as much time or desire to use electronics like smart phones and social media, for instance, because they were helping on the farm.

“We would create our own adventures while our parents worked on the farm,” Andrew Seibel said. When they grew older, their responsibilities increased. During COVID, Andrew would work with the calves his family owned at the time, or would prepare for the annual grape harvest.

The Seibels have cut back a little in recent years, citing one farmhand’s retirement and a health scare Andy experienced in 2022 as their primary reasons for downsizing.

Whereas the Seibels used to raise cattle, cut hay, and harvest grapes, they have leased out the cattle and hay operations and are now focusing solely on wine grape production. Still, it is a full time job that fills their evenings and weekends, according to Megan Seibel.

“We have to prioritize work in the name of family, not necessarily work instead of family,” Megan Seibel said.

That work ethic has been both their saving grace and a downfall. “We don’t know when to cut it off,” she said, telling about a time that Andy Seibel was out of town and farm life became more chaotic than normal. Thanks to technology, she handled a pregnant, prolapsed cow, a forest fire, and a work call to London simultaneously.

Andrew Seibel is embracing that work ethic as he performs his duties as National FFA president. “If you can’t rely on your own hard work at the end of the day, you can’t really get anywhere,” he said.

Most of all, he values the strength of his family. “Whether it is your immediate blood family or the people you have around you, when you have a strong support system, you can do anything in life,” he said.

He will return to finish his studies at Virginia Tech in January 2024. He has not yet declared a major, but he said he might pursue an education in agricultural economics. His mother hopes to see him go into some sort of farming-related career.

She would love to see all three of her children working on the farm eventually. “But we certainly want them to go out and do their own thing for a while first,” she said.

This article comes from Cardinal News, an online nonprofit news agency based in Southwest Virginia.