Why is FFA Still a Rural Staple?

By Mary Schulken — July 08, 2010 3 min read
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Are agricultural education and the 82-year-old Future Farmers of America organization throwbacks to the past, even in rural schools? No, Dr. Larry Case, retiring national FFA advisor, told the Rural Education blog. Read in this recent post how record numbers of students are participating in the organization. That made me wonder why, so I asked both a teacher and a recent high school graduate.

April Lamm, 18, heads to N.C. State University to study agricultural education in August. Then, she’ll return home to rural Wilson County, N.C., to teach agriculture for at least four years. The local scholarship she won requires that commitment.

Why did you join FFA?
I joined FFA because I saw people with different backgrounds in it and because my friends were in it.

What led you to choose agricultural education as your path?
My main factor is my family. We’ve always had a strong agricultural background. We lease out our small farm right now because the money just isn’t there and we’re all so busy. But it’s my little treasure.

Why do you think FFA continues to attract students?
Ag ed and FFA teach a lot about common sense. Other courses teach about academic sense, and that’s great. But [FFA] teaches you more about what you can do with your hands and what you can accomplish.

What lessons have you learned from your FFA and agricultural education program that you are likely to share with students as a teacher?
I got brave enough to do extemporaneous public speaking this year. If you know me, you know that’s something I’d never do. One of the reasons was to get prepared for my scholarship interviews. And, I kind of like a challenge. It taught me more than anything else to try, because you never know what will happen.
Also, my work with essays is a major lesson. It was a lot of hard work, tedious work, and I didn’t expect [to win] a first in the state [FFA competition.] One of the lessons that shows you is to do your hard work, even if you don’t expect anything for it because you will get something for it.

Stephen Emerson teaches agricultural education and advises FFA students at 1,300-student James B. Hunt Jr. High School , from which Ms. Lamm graduated in June. Some 155 students at that primarily rural school participate in agricultural education and FFA, taking classes such as animal science, horticulture and mechanics. They also compete in Career Development Events, from public speaking and parliamentary procedure to tractor/truck safety.

What role and purpose does agricultural education play in your school and in rural communities?
Its role is not only to teach students about agriculture but to teach students skills needed for real-world applications—skills such as leadership development, career management and so on. I view agricultural education as a stepping-stone for all our students to use to go on to college and use the skills learned in ag ed in all aspects of their lives. We are not just developing knowledgeable students in the field of agriculture, we are developing leaders that can one day go back to [their communities] and serve in many capacities.

Why do students still find FFA relevant in today’s world?
I believe young people find FFA relevant because it provides a base for anyone to build on. Students get to travel ... learn leadership skills ... learn team-building skills that can be used no matter the career choice. When you make leadership fun and you do it in a way that is relevant to students’ lives, they want to be a part of it.

What changes do you foresee in FFA and agricultural education?
I see the structure of some of the classes changing slightly to meet the changing economy and the new technologies being used.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.