In the January issue of Main Street Magazine Dutchess County Legislator, Gregg Pulver, indicated that the FFA organization (Future Farmers of America) played a crucial role in his development as a leader. We hear of the “farm-to-table” movement, the desire for fresh/local food and the need for local farms to flourish. In these pandemic times with supply chain snags, we see a renewed interest in home gardening and home food production generally. We observe the aging of our farmer population. Who will provide our food in the future? FFA can help meet these needs and more. But what is FFA?
What is FFA?
Historically, the organization was known as Future Farmers of America. Recognizing that its mission was much broader than production agriculture, it was renamed in 1988 and is now called the National FFA Organization. The question of “What is FFA?” can be further addressed courtesy of National FFA headquarters.
“FFA provides the next generation of leaders who will change the world. Founded in 1928, FFA is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture. Total membership is just over 735,000 students nationwide who are part of 8,817 local chapters. Chapters can be found in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. [Indeed, ten FFA chapters are less than 35 miles from Millerton, NY, where this magazine is published].
“FFA is not just for students who want to be production farmers; FFA also welcomes members who aspire to careers as teachers, doctors, scientists, business owners, and more. The new name reflects the growing diversity and new opportunities in the industry of agriculture.
“FFA continues to help the next generation rise up to meet those challenges by helping its members to develop their own unique talents and explore their interests in a broad range of agricultural career pathways. So today, we are still the Future Farmers of America. But, we are the Future Biologists, Future Chemists, Future Veterinarians, Future Engineers, and Future Entrepreneurs of America, too.
Today, the National FFA Organization remains committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. Our members live the motto Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live and Living to Serve. FFA members rise to the challenge of service embracing members of all walks of life united through FFA.”
Given the breadth of interests that fall under the FFA umbrella, it is easy to tailor a chapter’s activities to the local student body. This enables students to create an individualized experience. Just as agricultural enterprises and natural resource issues vary from region to region, so does the emphasis of FFA chapters around the nation.
In my lifetime, dairy farming has become less prevalent in the region. However, greenhouse, floriculture, and landscaping businesses are on the increase. FFA chapters adjust.
Fun Fact: It doesn’t have to be rural … the largest chapter in New York State is in Queens (NYC) at John Bowne High School.
All FFA members are encouraged to pursue a Supervised Agricultural Experience. This “hands on” component of education puts classroom learning into practice. It could be an internship or employment at a local farm or agriculturally-related business, research-based in which the student conducts their own experiments (could double as a science fair project), entrepreneurial if a student starts their own enterprise such as market vegetables, laying hens, or livestock raising (maybe for the Big E or your local county fair), or working for a service-based enterprise. In all cases the student tracks cash income and outflow as well as records what they learn in a journal under the guidance of their chapter advisor/s.
All FFA members are also encouraged to participate in competitions starting with their local district and moving to substate, state, and national levels. Competitions are held in career development events such as veterinary science, floriculture, landscaping, meat grading, mechanics, and numerous others. Competitions are also held in leadership events such as reciting the FFA creed, demonstrating how to run a meeting using parliamentary procedure (Robert’s rules of order), and speaking on issues in agriculture. Again, there are numerous others. In these COVID times, competitions can be virtual.
No FFA? No problem!
If your school does not have a chapter, contact your state FFA association to inquire. At minimum a three class sequence will need to be offered in school. These courses will need to approved by your Board of Education and be taught by a teacher certified in agriculture education. At John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction, NY, our chapter is quite new (less than five years old). The current sequence includes Biology, that ninth graders are required to take, and two electives, Plant Science and Animal Science. The electives are typically taken by upperclassmen. The electives frequently use the Curriculum for Agriculture Science Education (CASE curriculum). The CASE organization offers curricular materials as well as training for teachers.
Helping to establish an FFA chapter is one of the best things that happened in my teaching career. Students who have this set of interests now have an organization they can connect to with like-minded students in their building, their district, their state. Community support from the broader agriculture community has been outstanding. Grant money is available for new chapters. For starters I encourage you to search FFA.org or search for your state FFA association.
FFA chapters in our region:
Pine Plains FFA, Pine Plains, NY
Advisor/contact is Stephanie Rhoades and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Membership: 45.
Chartered at least 50 years ago, for decades it was the only chapter in Dutchess County. The chapter focuses a lot on the areas of personal growth and community development. Several community events are hosted throughout the year, allowing members to connect to the community and grow as leaders. One of the biggest events is our annual Ag Fair. For the Ag Fair we partner with local farmers to give showmanship experiences to fourth and fifth graders. Local farmers work directly with the elementary students for a few hours daily during the 2-3 weeks leading up to Ag Fair to get the kids and animals ready for our dairy and livestock shows. A special shout-out goes to this year’s farms: Lo-Nan, Millerhurst, and Ronnybrook for allowing youth in our area to experience livestock showmanship firsthand. In addition to livestock showmanship there is also a horse pull, tractor pull, animal exhibits, gym exhibits from elementary classes and the local garden club, and more at the Ag Fair. Look for it in October.
We also host FFA District 2 (NYS) leadership contests, a farm toy show, ag literacy visits to second graders, and a canned food drive. These events make a difference in the lives of FFA members by connecting them to our community and by allowing members to develop leadership and communication skills. Members must work together to coordinate all aspects of these events.
Our chapter members further their personal growth by participating in state-level leadership conferences and programs at the Oswegatchie Educational Center, which is New York’s FFA leadership camp in Croghan, NY. In the words Cailin Halladay, “I have learned a lot of leadership skills that carry over into the real world. These skills have positively impacted me and shaped me into who I am.” Cailin is a Senior in the Pine Plains FFA and serves as the chapter reporter.
Wamogo Regional FFA, Litchfield, CT
Advisor/contact is Charlie Rowland, and can be reached at CRowland@RSD6.org. Membership: 250
Chartered in 1955, we are fortunate to have seven major areas of study, including Production Animal and Equine, Agricultural Mechanics, Veterinary Science, Natural Resources, Horticulture, Food Science and Sustainability, and Ag Biotechnology. As a chapter, we have strong partnerships in the community and embody the “Living to Serve” aspect of the FFA motto. These partnerships include teachers and students working with many local agricultural businesses, including White Memorial Conservation Center and Tri-State Veterinary Services.
Additionally, we plan and participate in a variety of service projects throughout the year, including donating the produce from our garden to local food shelters, holding fundraisers for local organizations, and hosting petting zoos during community events to increase agricultural awareness. In order to accomplish all of our events throughout the year, every Wamogo FFA member serves on an FFA committee where they participate in the planning and hosting of these events and opportunities. This provides all of our members with valuable leadership experience as well as the ability to collaborate with their peers and community members.
Dutchess County BOCES. FFA, Dutchess County, NY
Advisor/contact is Rebecca Cossa, and can be reached at rebecca.cossa@DCBOCES.org. Membership: 35-40
Chartered in 2017, we have strong interests in Veterinary Science, Floriculture, and Agriscience Research. BOCES draws students from throughout the county. FFA has shown our students that they can be organized leaders, independent facilitators, and effective public speakers. FFA boosts confidence in both general members and officers, and creates camaraderie within our ag program.
FFA has been an excellent conduit for connecting our students to the community through various organizations and events such as Dutchess County Ag Society and the County Fair, Dutchess Cornell Cooperative Extension, 4-H, and other FFA chapters through local events and competitions.
BOCES has AM and PM student groups with no extracurricular time/
Shepaug FFA, Washington, CT
Advisor/contact is Pete Lawler, and can be reached at Lawlerp@region-12.org. Membership: 113
Chartered in 2019, this is our third year of the agriscience program. We are looking forward to having a full program next year with our first graduating class! Our strongest interests are in animal science, sustainability, food systems, and power systems and technology.
Students believe that FFA has made an impact on their lives through the leadership opportunities, community service, and career readiness opportunities (like career development events or supervised agricultural experience projects). As a new chapter, FFA has helped us to better connect with our community as we have nine sending towns to the agriscience program. This has allowed students to engage with a larger community and seek out opportunities for community service where our students live. As we are building our chapter’s traditions, important activities throughout the year include local tractor parades, National FFA Convention, Shepaug’s Annual Holiday Bazaar, and our spring FFA Banquet.
Housatonic Valley FFA, Falls Village, CT
Advisor/contact is David Moran, and can be reached at email@example.com. Membership: 175 from NY, MA, and CT.
Chartered in 1940, our strongest interests are Animal, Food, and Plant Sciences as well as Natural Resources, Engineering and Mechanics.
The FFA makes a positive impact in the lives of students by developing their potential for premiere leadership, personal growth, and career success. Students have started innumerable agribusinesses, attended post-secondary education through the PhD level, trade schools, and have entered tradition agricultural enterprises as well as law, education, medicine and finances.
The community is everything to our program. Without it the quality of our program would be greatly diminished. It all begins with the Agricultural Advisory Committee and extends to our Alumni program. Beyond these two entities, there are a number of community people that are extremely generous to the students and program, from the local community, state and national resources, as well as the Tri-state area.
Local activities include FFA Awards, holiday sales and marketing, National FFA Week.
John Jay FFA (Wappingers Central Schools), Hopewell Jct., NY
Advisor/contact is Maryjane Mcfarland, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as Emily Sztaberek, who can be reached at email@example.com. Membership: 45.
Chartered in January of 2020, just in time for COVID shutdown! The group was active for at least a year before becoming official. Primary interests include Plant and Animal Sciences, Veterinary Science, Mechanics and Leadership skills such as public speaking. The Advisory Committee and local agricultural organizations such as the Dutchess County Agriculture Society, Dutchess County Dairy Committee, and Hudson Valley Fresh were, and remain, vital to our success. Recently linked to the East Fishkill Historical Society and the Senior Center in Hopewell, the group looks forward to maintaining historic gardens and growing produce for seniors in the community.
Notable activities include a holiday plant sale, goat yoga, and winter carnival for youngsters in the community (complete with petting zoo and goat poop bingo). Best of all, our FFA students can apply classroom science to real life situations (a big selling point to our BOE) and they are able to seek out and share interests with like-minded students. We are looking forward to our first, in-person, State Convention (fingers crossed).
Other FFA Chapters in the immediate area include Taconic Hills, Mount Everett, Northwestern Regional and Woodbury.