Name: Jennifer Barber Cook
Title/Position: Arkansas FFA Foundation Director
Briefly describe your role: My job is to raise financial support for the Arkansas FFA by strengthening relationships with industries and individuals who desire to support agricultural education and the FFA. My message is clear: the only way to secure a sustainable future is to invest in agriculture education!
Q: Is what you’re doing now what you always pictured you would do?
A: No. I had no idea I would ever be in development work because asking people for money has never been high on my list of fun things to do. However, asking people to support an organization that has made all the difference in my life really isn’t hard. I love the Arkansas FFA, and anything I can do to make things better for our students or teachers makes me really happy.
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges for women in your chosen
industry? What are the greatest opportunities?
A: In a previous life, before I was married or became a mom, I interned for three summers with DuPont Ag. Products, and it was hard to be taken seriously in an industry dominated by men. When I taught high school agriculture and also when working for Cargill Pork, it was hard to be taken seriously then, too. At times, I was a little bit intimidated, but now that I’m 50 years old, I clearly recognize that intelligence about agriculture is certainly not gender specific. I’ve never felt the NEED to prove myself, yet in being true to who I am and what I love and by just working hard and doing things to the best of my abilities, I have shown that I - and other women - definitely have a place in the agriculture industry. Even though technically, my career focus is development work for an agriculture youth organization, I feel that knowing about and appreciating all aspects of agriculture helps to increase my relevancy when speaking with donors. The greatest opportunity for women in agriculture is simply that we CAN explore any career we want and most stereotypes are long gone.
Q: Who has inspired you in your life/career?
A: My Papa, L.K. Holt of Manila, was born in 1908 and passed away in 2006. He began teaching high school agriculture in 1928, so the foundation for Arkansas FFA was certainly influenced by him. I was told recently by Randy Veach who went to school at Manila when my Papa taught that ‘Mr. Holt saved the lives of a lot of boys by teaching them to be men.’ I think Papa was as shocked as I was when I was elected as the first female State FFA President in Arkansas. I grew up in a single parent home, and Papa helped to meet many of our basic needs, so always wanted to make him proud.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring professional?
A: Find a way to do what you love.
Q: What’s been your secret to success?
A: Faith, family, friends and FFA. I’ve had many invest in my life, including my
own FFA advisor. I’m thankful!