Remarks to Representatives of the Future Farmers of America

July 27, 1982

The President. Thank you, and welcome. You know, there's always a temptation to try and tell a story having some connection with the group that you're talking to, and I yield to that temptation.

There was a rural couple that on a couple of days off went to an art exhibit. It was an exhibit of modern abstract art. And the husband, he walked up to that first picture, and he took a look at it. And then he looked from another angle, and then -- well, he tried it from every angle and finally turned to his wife and says, ``I want to buy it.'' She says, ``You what? You want to buy it?'' And he says, ``Yes.'' He said, ``It's the best darn picture of the farm situation I every saw.'' [Laughter] He says, ``No matter which way you look at it, it doesn't make sense.'' [Laughter] Well, sometimes I know that all of you must think that.

Just a few years ago we had a Congressman from a very large city who knew very little about rural life and found himself appointed to the agricultural committee. That kind of makes sense in government, doesn't it? One of his first efforts was to get the committee to declare that food was a natural resource and therefore should be equally distributed among all people. Well, I know some people that have been working at producing that natural resource that would differ with him.

I don't know whether you know the story about the old boy that had taken over some land down in a creek bottom -- and it was covered with rocks and brush, and it was pretty scrabbly -- and he went to work on it. And he worked and worked, and finally he had a garden that was his pride and joy. And one Sunday morning after the Sunday services he asked the minister if he wouldn't like to come out and see his garden. Well, the minister arrived and he looked. And he looked at melons, and he said, ``Oh, the Lord has certainly blessed this land.'' And he looked at some corn -- he said the tallest he'd ever seen. He said, ``The Lord has blessed this land.'' He said, ``My, what the Lord and you have managed to accomplish here.'' And he went on that way for about 10 minutes. And the old boy finally said, ``Reverend, I wish you could have seen this when the Lord was doing it by Himself.'' [Laughter]

I want you to know that in this administration, we're trying our hardest to bring more common sense at least from government's angle to the farm situation. In fact, one of your own members is our Secretary of Agriculture, Jack Block.

Jack became a Green Hand in the Knoxville, Illinois, chapter of FFA back in 1949, and my bet is that he can still get into his blue jacket. I think he really misses farming. Earlier this spring we had a little tussle with him. He wanted to plow up the grounds here and plant soybeans. [Laughter]

But the FAA [FFA] is known for developing leaders like Jack Block. And your Building Our American Communities program, which recognizes thousands of youth who take the lead in improving their communities, is just such an example.

The FFA embodies the best of the volunteer spirit. And there are so many instances that I could cite here. Flagler County, Florida: An FFA chapter set out to reduce beach erosion in a dune area by planting vegetation. The result was an estimated 95-percent reduction in erosion. In Glen Gardner, New Jersey, a chapter landscaped a newly renovated library. In Howells, Nebraska, the FFA constructed a basketball court and scoreboard and repaired picnic tables and benches in a local park. In Elma, Washington, the FFA chapter built nearly 8 miles of fire trails and planted over 219,000 seedlings.

I could go on with these kind of stories -- I love them -- and I'd only be citing FFA examples. But on behalf of all Americans, I want to thank you, the members of FFA, for what you're doing for our country. America needs your kind of leadership. America also needs your contributions to farming and agribusiness.

Through the Vocational Agricultural program -- and I know Secretary Bell is interested in this -- the FFA has prepared millions of young people for their careers. And I use the word ``career'' advisedly. Few occupations go back further in history than this one. As a matter of fact, in ancient Rome, Cicero had this to say about the occupation that you will some day pursue: ``Of all occupations from which gain is secured, there is none better than agriculture, nothing more productive, nothing sweeter, nothing more worthy of a free man.''

Well, you of the FFA fulfill that ideal. And as you go along in your careers, I just want you to know that you carry not only my genuine respect and that of millions and millions of your fellow citizens but our heartfelt best wishes and appreciation.

God bless you, and thank you very much for being here.

Scott Neasham. President Reagan, it means a lot to us as young people that you have visited with us today. The last line of our motto is, ``Living to serve.'' The Bible says, ``The greatest among you shall be the servant of all.'' And we are here today to recognize a great servant of our country.

We as young people look to you for counsel and guidance, and we respect you very much. And it is because of this great respect that we have for you that we have elected you to the highest degree that the FFA can present upon anyone, and that is the Honorary American Farmer Degree.

The President. Thank you all. Thank you very much. I'm greatly honored.

If I could just say to your national president here and to all of you, that line in your motto -- a very wise man once said, ``Life begins when you begin to serve.'' So, your lives have begun earlier than most.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.