Next Gen Ag: Shaping the ag industry one student at a time

by | Jan 31, 2024

Next Gen Ag is a year long series that will run on our In The Field blog, Facebook page, Instagram page and Twitter account. Each Wednesday, we will highlight a young person pursuing a career in the agriculture industry. Individuals can be in high school, college, or recent graduates who are working to establish a career in agriculture. Stay tuned each week to meet some of our industry’s future leaders!

As the first Hispanic officer for the FFA, Elizabeth Espino has already made quite an impact on the agriculture industry. Although she did not grow up on a farm, she was raised with knowledge of the industry and experience that led her to pursue a career of lifelong passion and education.

As a child, Elizabeth remembers her parents’ telling stories of working on the tobacco farm or in the blueberry fields, but she didn’t truly understand the importance and depth of the industry until her sophomore year of high school. “My father has worked at Worthington Farms for over 20 years,” she said. “When I was in high school, he decided that it was time for me to get my first job, so I spent spring break pruning trees on the nursery side of the operation.” Although not the ideal spring break situation, Elizabeth grew to appreciate and enjoy the work being done across the farm. “I came back every spring and summer break after that,” she said. “Then, once I got to high school, I took my first agriculture class, which was Agriscience Application, and that changed my life forever.” During her Agriscience Application class, Elizabeth’s teacher showed the 2050 video, which talks about the importance of our state’s agriculture industry and how many workers and food we need to produce by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population. “Watching that video was like a lightbulb moment for me,” Elizabeth said. “Immediately I knew that I was meant to spend my life in agriculture and be a part of the solution.” Directly following that day in class, Elizabeth signed up to join FFA at her local chapter and served as a Chapter Officer her junior and senior year, as well as Chapter President her senior year.

During her college years, Elizabeth also served as the North Carolina FFA State President from 2021-2022, where she was the first Hispanic state FFA officer in North Carolina. “I learned a lot through my time in FFA that was valuable and helped me build connections in the industry,” she said. “I also established my life’s mission statement through my work in the FFA. Being the first Hispanic officer made me realize the platform that I have, which allows me to ensure that future leaders have a place. My goal in life is to teach and create a path for kids in agriculture to feel comfortable in their own skin and find their calling in the industry.” Although her time serving in the FFA has ended, Elizabeth is now an FFA advisor, where she continues to impact kids on a daily basis.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education with a minor in Agribusiness at N.C. State University, Elizabeth took a job at Lenoir County Public Schools, teaching Horticulture classes to ninth through twelfth grade students. She recently began her second semester of teaching and is loving every minute. “I knew as a kid that I wanted to be a teacher, but it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to teach,” she said. “As a horticulture teacher, I have found my place. I have about 70 students that I get to impact daily by teaching them about the agriculture industry and how they can make a difference.” Elizabeth teaches three classes each day: Horticulture I, Horticulture II and Horticultural Landscaping. “I tell my students every day that we are going to learn something together, because even though I am a teacher, I learn just as much from my students as they do from me,” she said. “The reality is that some of these kids may be the upcoming generation of agriculture leaders, so I have a very important job teaching them about their options in the industry and how to find their passion.”

Elizabeth loves being an agriculture teacher because of the impact she has on the lives of her students. No matter where the future takes her, she always plans to educate others on the importance of agriculture in North Carolina and around the world. “Agriculture feeds us three times a day and puts the clothes on our backs,” she said. “Many people don’t know where their food comes from or who produces it. I have family members overseas that are migrant workers. They literally rely on the agriculture industry to feed their families, but so does the entire world. We need to understand what we are putting in our bodies and be grateful to those who produce the things that we need to survive.”

As a new leader in agriculture, Elizabeth brings many skills to the table including an outgoing and very passionate personality, the ability to speak two languages and a variety of hands-on experience due to previous internships. She is excited about the industry and her passion shines through all that she does as a teacher, FFA advisor and agriculture industry worker. Although she loves many aspects of working in agriculture, her favorite part is meeting the people that make the industry what it is today. “Agriculture is a tight knit community that stays connected no matter where you go in your career,” she said. “People in this industry are always so willing to help one another. It’s a community that I am honored to be a part of.”

The advice that Elizabeth gives her students and any other individuals interested in pursuing the agriculture industry is to take ag classes, educate yourself, take any opportunity presented to you and utilize the people in your life as mentors that can help build your connections across the industry. “Educate yourself on all aspects of the agriculture industry to find which area you want to specialize in,” she said. “Once you have figured that out, get as much hands-on experience as you can in that area. Also, build relationships with people across the industry and ask questions to get you to where you need to be. Get involved in agriculture groups like FFA, 4H and Farm Bureau to build your network, gain experience and establish relationships that will last a lifetime.” We are so proud of Elizabeth and excited that she is already living out her dream in the agriculture industry. We can’t wait to see how she will continue to impact agriculture in the future!