Newton Senior High School senior James Leonard is just 18 years old, but he already is an avid farmer and businessman with a passion for all things agriculture.
"[Farming] is important to me because we feed the world," he said. "Without agriculture and without farmers, a lot of people wouldn't get food, and I just feel that it really helps and that I'm doing this for a good cause to help feed the world."
Leonard grew up on a 500-acre farm about 10 miles north of Newton, where his family's main crops are corn and soybeans. Leonard himself even has a small cattle operation consisting of nine head of feeder calves that he plans to sell in July or early August.
"My dad had hogs at our house, and he got out of that business and we had the empty barn space," he said. “So I started buying some calves and feeding them out, and it's made me some money.”
When he's not on the family farm, Leonard stays busy at school as the chapter president of the National FFA Organization at NHS, which has about 75 members.
"I ran for offices throughout my high school career and didn't get them, so I got the short end of the stick there," Leonard said with a laugh. "But this year, I ran for chapter president, and the chapter does an interview process with each applicant, so I gave a two-minute speech and members voted me in."
With the title comes the responsibility of giving radio and newspaper interviews, as well as going on chapter visits and attending workshops and leadership conferences. Leonard cites one of his major accomplishments during his time in the FFA as his selection as a South Central District sentinel – one of six throughout the state of Iowa.
After his graduation from high school this spring, Leonard plans to attend Iowa State University to major in agricultural business and accounting. But the FFA will always be a part of his life.
"I will be an active member until I'm 21. Then, I'll join a collegiate FFA ... and hopefully work on the family farm after college," he said. "I'll still be around town and be a supporter of the FFA.
“Actually, we just started an alumni chapter of the FFA here in Newton, and I'll be a member of that after I graduate."