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story.lead_photo.caption <p>Democrat photo/Liz Morales</p><p>Missouri Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Garrett Hawkins served as speaker Nov. 29 for the California FFA Greenhand and Chapter Degree ceremony at the performing arts center.</p>

An impressive number of California High School FFA students earned an esteemed right of passage Nov. 29 at the organization's Greenhand and Chapter Degree ceremonies at the California Performing Arts Center.

The ceremony recognized the hard work and dedication the 84 Greenhand candidates and the 65 Chapter candidates completed to earn their respective titles.

There to remind the students of this honor was Missouri Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Garrett Hawkins, who served as the evening's speaker.

Hawkins told the audience his background in FFA has a strong connection with the future that is rooted in all of the present members.

"I believe everyday, we need to be devoted to our young people, who are the future of FFA," Hawkins said. "I sincerely enjoy opportunities like this — to be able to speak with our youth and challenge new members and our established members of the FFA and visit with you about your future."

The California FFA completed a food-packing event at this years' Missouri State Fair. Hawkins said that, as there is a great need across the state for food, Missourians need to "look in our own backyard" and see there's also a need in this area for agriculture to "reach out and connect, because there is hunger all round us."

"In total, on that day, 1.2 million meals were packed for six regional food banks around the state," he said. "Feeding more is just one of the areas that agriculture is working on. We're looking at feeding more, connecting more, empowering more and building more. All four of those pillars are focused on making the department stronger.

"With building more, we are looking at a need to make an even better connection with consumers that are three or four generations deep within their farms."

Hawkins went on to share tips for success that were published by the FFA magazine.

"First, keep an open mind," he said. "Secondly, remember that it's all about the skills. The tech skill and the soft skills. Now, the soft skills are talking about personal communication with clients.

"The third tip is to get as much hands-on experience as you can. Just get your hands dirty.

"The fourth and final tip is to learn as you go."

The Greenhand Degree Ceremony commenced with 84 candidates moving forward with their FFA careers. Then, 65 new Chapter FFA Degrees were announced.

According to the Official FFA Manual, in order to be called a Greenhand, a candidate must be enrolled in agricultural education; learn and explain the FFA Creed, motto, salute and FFA mission statement; describe and explain the meaning of the FFA emblem and colors; demonstrate a knowledge of the FFA Code of Ethics and the proper use of the FFA jacket; demonstrate a knowledge of the history of the organization, chapter constitution and bylaws and the chapter Program of Activities; personally own or at least have access to the Official FFA Manual and the Official FFA Student Handbook; and submit a written application for the Greenhand FFA Degree.

In order to earn a Chapter FFA Degree, one must have received the Greenhand FFA Degree; completed at least 180 hours of agricultural education at or above the ninth grade level; participated in the planning and conducting of at least three official functions in the chapter's Program of Activities; earned and productively invested at least $150 by the member's own efforts or worked at least 45 hours in excess of scheduled class time; developed plans for continued growth and improvement in a supervised agricultural experience program; effectively led a group discussion for 15 minutes; have demonstrated five procedures of parliamentary law; show progress toward individual achievement in the FFA awards programs; have a satisfactory scholastic record; and participated in at least 10 hours of community service activities.

Before leaving the stage, Hawkins left the candidates with some food for thought.

"No matter where this path takes you," Hawkins said. "If you're working for the government, or as any other path that you started from this program, I want you to think about it and say, 'Wow. FFA brought me here.'"