As the first female Arkansas FFA state president, the first Arkansas FFA Foundation executive director, and a first-generation cattle producer, Jennifer Cook knows a few things about being a first. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

Jennifer Cook was the first female State FFA officer in Arkansas and the organization’s first foundation head

WOOSTER, ARK. – As the first female Arkansas FFA state president, the first Arkansas FFA Foundation executive director, and a first-generation cattle producer, Jennifer Cook knows a few things about being a first. 

Born into a low-income home in rural Lake City, Ark., Jennifer never could have predicted the way her future in agriculture would shape Arkansas FFA for generations to come. 

Young Jennifer was influenced by her grandfather, an agriculture teacher, and joined what was known at the time as the Future Farmers of America, or FFA. In FFA, Jennifer participated in leadership events and showed cattle, a hobby that would teach her lifelong lessons about hard work and dedication. 

“I, like FFA members, went to leadership camp and state convention and was always starstruck by the state officers,” said Jennifer. 

That hard work and dedication were tested in 1987 when she decided to run for state FFA office.

In 1987, Jennifer made history when she was elected as the first female Arkansas FFA President. 

“It was almost an out-of-body experience,” Jennifer said. “I was sitting behind the curtains on the left side of the stage by myself for what felt like a lifetime.” 

After reminiscing on the excitement of getting elected, Jennifer acknowledged she had questions about how she would do the job. 

“I didn’t go into the election thinking I would get elected as the first female president,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know that I would be considered. I was just happy to be on the team.”

Without reliable transportation and limited financial means, Jennifer felt extra pressure around her year of service.

“I am a proponent of wanting people to feel represented, but as the first female president, I knew I needed to do a good job because I didn’t want people to look back and think ‘she ruined the organization,’” Jennifer said. 

Today, Jennifer continues to make cattle and FFA part of her daily life.

Telling stories of how her children benefited from the life lessons taught through FFA and showing cattle, Jennifer said they teach good life skills that shape our youth into good people. 

As the owner of 5C Cattle Company, Jennifer, alongside her husband Bryan, raise Hereford cattle shown in livestock rings across Arkansas by young FFA members. Jennifer joked about telling her husband, “if we got married, we would own cattle.”

Jennifer Cook was the first female State FFA officer in Arkansas and the organization’s first foundation head. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

Jennifer ran for National FFA office in college. After running, it was brought to her attention that she wasn’t elected because her direct competitor had a better Supervised Agricultural Experience or SAE. 

“I decided then that our kids would have cattle, and they would have good SAEs, and they wouldn’t be excluded because of something they couldn’t help,” said Jennifer. 

Her experience of growing up with limited resources made her value when people step in and fill voids to help kids. Doug Ward was her high school ag teacher, and she describes him as the “most influential person” in her journey to becoming the first because he helped fill voids in her life.

“He poured his life and soul into creating opportunities for people like me. I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but Mr. Ward was so good at helping me see that it was OK that I was different,” Jennifer said.

After serving as the Arkansas FFA president, Jennifer was offered an internship in D.C., and Ward once again stepped up.  Knowing Jennifer didn’t have the clothes for a professional wardrobe or money to pay for clothes to work in D.C., he called her and said, “Meet me at the mall.”

“So I met him at the mall because I always did whatever he told me,” Jennifer recalled. “Standing outside the mall, Mr. Ward said, ‘I want you to go inside and pick out a dress you can wear to the office, and once you pick it out, come back out here and get me, and I’ll go inside and pay for it.’ He made the playing field level for someone who grew up on Cherry Street in Lake City, Ark.”

Now, 35 years later, Jennifer has the opportunity to work with FFA members daily in her role as the executive director of the Arkansas FFA Foundation. Her job is to spearhead all fundraising efforts on behalf of the largest youth leadership organization in the state, assuring that millions of dollars are correctly allocated to leverage student success and industry elevation. 

Did Jennifer ever think her stint as state president would result in a career with the association as the foundation director? “No, absolutely not,” Jennifer said. “Five years ago, I didn’t know what a foundation director did.” 

Jennifer described having a list of names and companies handed to her that had previously supported Arkansas FFA and being tasked to build a system as the first person in her role.  Being the first often means taking some risks.

“Try. If you don’t try, you always regret it,” Jennifer said.

A big risk Jennifer took in her position was asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson for $5 million for the Arkansas FFA Foundation. “What if I didn’t ask Governor Hutchinson for $5 million? Then we would’ve never gotten $2.5 million,” said Jennifer. 


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