The job of managing SUNY Cobleskill’s USDA Meat Laboratory sits in the capable hands of FFA alumna Betsy Jensen. In addition to its physical demands and long hours, it is also a job that requires deep understanding of trends across all of agriculture.
As part of our FFA Week 2020 celebration, we sat down with Betsy to discuss her time in FFA, her journey (and then return) to SUNY Cobleskill, and why FFA continues to make a difference in her life.
SUNY Cobleskill: Tell us about your intro to FFA
Betsy Jensen: At first I really just followed my sisters (who were seven and three years ahead in school respectively.) They were FFA officers, got their American Degrees – the whole nine yards. It was also a natural transition from 4H for me and never really much of a decision.
Coby: What were some of the first things you discovered about yourself, and your relationship with agriculture, as an FFA member?
Betsy Jensen: I grew up on a dairy farm. My ‘ag outlook’ before FFA was pretty narrow. Something like poultry production was not something that was really on my radar. My first FFA experience was creed speaking, which was another thing completely off my radar. That launched my interest in advocacy and outreach. Then I got into pastured poultry. That was a turning point.
Coby: Talk a little bit about the start of that journey; it seems to have had a major influence.
Betsy Jensen: Definitely. My 9th grade teacher was also my FFA advisor, and he taught the first pastured poultry class I ever took. I liked the class, but it wasn’t until it was over, and he asked the class, “Is this something any of you want to pursue?” that I said I’d take the next step and try it.
Pastured poultry became the subject of my SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) and the business plan that was a big part of it.
Coby: How did that go from an interest and area of focus to a career?
Betsy Jensen: Until I really got moving on my SAE, it never would have dawned on me that pastured poultry would guide me to anything close to a career. The thought about meat processing never would have entered my mind, and it didn’t until my SAE. I think I probably always knew it was a career opportunity – just not that it would be mine.
The link was SUNY Cobleskill. My sisters moved from FFA to Coby, and when I toured the campus and some of the area farms, it was obvious to me that this was the place where I was going to expand. The next stage of my growth personally was from interest areas to career opportunities.
Coby: In what ways did the FFA influence remain with you as a Coby student?
Betsy Jensen: In a lot of ways. When I first got here, I was angling everything towards ag engineering and biotechnology. I thought those were going to actually be the career paths for me. It didn’t last long (obviously) but I was intrigued by the amount of unique opportunities in agriculture. I think FFA prepared me for that. I know pretty much everyone you’ve spoken with this week has said it, but the leadership part is real.
I have so many examples of times on this campus where I’ve said ‘I want to be a part of this – and I can be a leader, too.’
Coby: Here’s the next part of that last question: Why should an FFA member come to Coby?
Betsy Jensen: It’s cliché but it’s just the truth: FFAers like FFA because it’s hands-on education and leadership blended into subjects people are really passionate about. That is exactly what you get here through the courses, and the clubs, and the people. Everything is hands-on, and there is every opportunity to lead. It’s real life, real learning.
Coby: Talk a little about your current involvement with FFA? What are you doing, and what are some of your takeaways even now?
Betsy Jensen: The networking you are able to do in FFA is more valuable than you realize when you’re a member. Even with students now the networking comes into play. It’s how I am able to relate to new students a lot of the time.
I’ve tried to do a lot of giving back in my specific area, because one of the things that makes FFA work is the diversity of what is available. For me, it’s meat, so for the last two years I’ve hosted the State Meat Evaluation CDE (Career Development Event) winners for a ‘crash course’ on cut identifications. They’re being asked to judge and identify different cuts as part of their contest, so we use our facility to work with them for a day.
I actually never got to do that; it’s the one thing I wish I did. People tell me all the time that I should lead that contest. I have to tell them, ‘Well, I would need to do the contest, first.’
Betsy Jensen ‘08 Is the Meat Laboratory Manager at SUNY Cobleskill. In addition to her passion for meat processing and affection for FFA, she once had a paying job that required her to eat eggs every day.