With more than 230 types of crops grown on a mere 1 percent of the total farmland in the U.S., it is fair to say the Central Valley is one of the world’s most productive agriculture regions. Since February is FFA Appreciation Month, I would like to give a brief history of the organization and describe how it has played a key role in my life as a student, educator and leader.
Future Farmers of America was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928. Their mission was to prepare future generations for the challenges associated with feeding a rapidly increasing population. One of the key ideas this founding group taught us is that agriculture is much more than planting and harvesting – it involves science, business and even art.
The National FFA organization is a key component of agricultural education and helps make classroom instruction come to life through realistic, hands-on applications. Each year, the students demonstrate their knowledge of agriculture and its many aspects through competitions.
FFA makes a positive difference in the students’ lives by fostering their potential for leadership and career success through agricultural education.
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I was an FFA member and officer in high school and an agriculture instructor/FFA adviser for 24 years. I greatly benefited from the leadership activities and the opportunities for personal growth.
Today, there are more than 7,500 chapters with about 600,000 members in the U.S.
But in Merced County, they are especially strong. The Atwater chapter, with more than 800 members, is the largest FFA chapter in the nation.
The eight FFA chapters in Merced County have won 79 state championships and six national championships competing in contests such as dairy cattle judging, floriculture, cotton, grape-vine pruning, horse judging, ornamental horticulture, agronomy, farm power, small engines, parliamentary procedure, public speaking, agriculture marketing and agriculture pests.
Winning state and national championships is an indicator of the high quality agriculture programs in Merced County. Agriculture programs continue to thrive while other career technical programs have struggled. As is the nature of the job and industry, agriculture teachers work with students year-round.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to eliminate funding for agriculture programs as part of his school finance reform. Assemblyman Adam Gray and Sen. Anthony Cannella were both instrumental in promoting the importance of agriculture education and how it fosters leadership.
On Agriculture Day, thousands of FFA-ers from around the state – in official dress uniform – descended on Sacramento to protest the cuts and to visit legislators. For those participating in the activity, it was a great lesson about how our government works.
The funding was restored. In the budget the governor submitted last month, no one even suggested making such cuts for next year.
I believe FFA’s success centers on teachers willing to work many hours with students outside the classroom, including weekends and holidays. Agriculture teachers are part of a highly collaborative network as they attend sectional, regional and state meetings. This level of communication and collaboration was taking place well before the Internet was established.
The statewide communication and opportunity for agriculture teachers and students to network not only online, but face-to-face creates strong county, regional, state and national associations that lead to many opportunities for students to serve in leadership roles.
All of pre-K-12 education in California is addressing new teaching standards using a pedagogy that incorporates teaching communication and critical thinking skills, working collaboratively, and being creative problem-solvers so students will be successful in college and the workplace.
With a motto of “Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, and living to serve,” agriculture programs and the FFA have been doing that since 1928.
I salute FFA members, advisers and parents during FFA Appreciation Month.
Gomes is the Merced County superintendent of schools.