FFA Continues To Grow Nationally

Jay Matteson

I remember, as a young kid, thumbing through a binder full of old family photos. I came across a photo that was labeled, “Lyman” and had a face circled on the photo. It was from the early 1940s and a sign on the wall behind this group of students read Future Farmers of America. “Lyman” was my dad and he grew up on a dairy farm in Oswego County in the Central Square area during the depression. I asked my dad what was Future Farmers of America? He didn’t say much other than it was a leadership organization for farm kids. I’m not sure what ever happened to the farm but my dad married my mom and spent many years as an electrician in the Oswego area. I never thought about Future Farmers of America again. 

    Growing up in the Oswego area I never heard anything more about Future Farmers of America. Attending Oswego High School in the mid 1980s, it seemed the push was to drive kids towards college for business or teaching careers. I was the odd ball as I wanted to pursue wildlife biology. After I attended college I returned home and worked with the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District. Even working for the Soil and Water Conservation District for six years, I never heard about Future Farmers of America. It was not until I moved to Jefferson County and became the director of the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District that I heard about an organization called FFA. 

    I quickly learned that FFA was the new name of Future Farmers of America. The name had just been changed to better reflect the nature of the youth organization and that not all participants in FFA go on to become farmers. I was very surprised that in all the years, since I first saw my dads photo, I never heard anything of the organization. It was a great surprise! 

    FFA is very strong in Jefferson County and the north country. When I first came to Jefferson County there were five FFA programs in Alexandria Bay, Belleville-Henderson, Carthage, Indian River and South Jefferson school districts. Although there are slight differences between each districts FFA programs, there are strong similarities in each. FFA uses agriculture as a foundation to help students build tremendous career and leadership skills. It is very hands on and very active! FFA welcomes students who aspire to careers such as doctors, scientists, teachers, bankers, business owners and farmers. The opportunities through FFA are many. Nationally, there are FFA opportunities at the middle school, high school and collegiate levels. 

    As I began learning about FFA, I was very impressed. I quickly discovered that these students were busy! In addition to their traditional classes, these students were growing things, building things, writing business plans, traveling to regional, state and national events and providing service to their communities. I learned that I could call upon FFA students to help me with events and know that when the iconic blue and gold FFA jackets showed up, I had a group of volunteers that I could depend upon to the get the job done right. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to know and develop strong friendships with many FFA students across the north country. I’ve watched them go on to become business owners and farmers, journalists and teachers, financial advisors and veterinarians. Many are now leaders in their communities. 

    Today there are six FFA chapters in Jefferson County. Watertown School District started an FFA chapter a few years ago that is beginning to thrive. I just saw a report that National FFA hit a record in membership with 760,113 student members in 2020. That is a nearly 60,000 student increase from 2019. Incredible, especially given the circumstances of 2020! The top five student membership states are Texas, California, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. In 2020, the organization has more than 115,831 latino members, more than 40,000 black members, and more than 12,000 members who are American Indian and Alaska Natives. Fifty one percent of members are male and forty four percent are female. FFA chapters exist in 24 of 25 of the largest cities in the United States. Since 2017, FFA chapters in NYS have grown by 30 percent. The largest FFA Chapter in New York State is located in New York City. 

    It is fantastic to see a valuable student organization growing in these days where so many of our youth programs struggle with declining enrollment. If you are interested in learning more about FFA visit the New York FFA website at www.nysffa.org or the national FFA website at www.ffa.org or contact your local high school to learn about FFA. 

Attention Educators: Ag teachers needed!

Jay Matteson

BY: Jay Matteson

September 22 was National Teach Ag Day.  I had never heard of the day. But as I learned more about its purpose recently, it became necessary to share this story with you. National Teach Ag Day is organized by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.  A small part of the observance is to say thank you to the existing ag teachers across the United States for the fantastic job they do.  The primary reason for National Teach Ag Day is to highlight a gaping demand for ag teachers.

    The website for Teach Ag Day is www.naae.org/teachag/index.cfm. The website makes very clear the purpose of the day is to “bring attention to the career of agricultural education, get students thinking about a possible career in agricultural education, and support agricultural teachers in their careers.”  There is currently a national shortage of agricultural educators at the high school level. Mrs. Tedra Bean, the Belleville Henderson High School Agricultural teacher recently told me, “there are 40 schools interested in starting agricultural education programs, but they don’t have agricultural teachers.”  Bill Stowell, ag educator at South Jefferson High School supported Mrs. Bean’s statement, adding that recently 24 ag teachers were added across New York state.

    Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Bean indicate that ag education programs at the high school level have three components: classroom instruction; FFA membership and participation; and supervised agricultural experiences.  The classroom instruction includes regular classroom instruction and laboratory learning.  Classroom instruction may cover sciences, business development, and a variety of other courses that develop the knowledge base of the student.  Laboratory instruction involves hands-on learning that may include handling animals, plants, food products, and technology. FFA brings a great opportunity to build leadership and communicative skills as well as the critical tools of time management. FFA (www.ffa.org) also allows students to join with thousands of students across the U.S. sharing common interests in a dynamic and large youth-led organization.  Supervised Agricultural Experiences provide students the opportunity to go into fields of their interest and gain true work experience. They may work in a number of fields that could include communications, farming, agribusiness, veterinary, environmental stewardship, and many other agricultural related career paths.   All three components combine into an ag education program that is a powerful tool to prepare students for the many career opportunities that exist in agriculture. 

    Those who graduate from college with a degree in agricultural education have more than one career opportunity they can pursue. Yes, there is tremendous opportunity to become a high school agriscience teacher with the huge demand that exists. College graduates might also follow a path towards being an ag literacy coordinator, an ag education professor in college, farm business management instructor, or a variety of other possibilities.  Here in New York state students graduating high school could pursue an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and then go on to SUNY Oswego to obtain their masters degree. There are many ag education programs across the nation to look into. The Teach Ag Day website mentioned earlier provides many resources for those interested to look at. 

    In addition to the ag programs at South Jefferson and Belleville Henderson schools, there are ag programs at Carthage, Indian River and Alexandria schools in Jefferson County.  In Lewis County ag programs exist at South Lewis, Beaver River and Lowville school districts. St Lawrence County has ag programs at Canton, Gouverneur and Edwards Knox schools along with a specialized program through BOCES called the St. Lawrence Agriculture Academy.   Unfortunately Oswego County does not have an ag education program despite their agricultural industry.

    With so many schools across the nation showing an interest in developing agricultural programs in their schools, and ag teacher positions going unfilled, students will take a second look at this opportunity.   Workforce development is critical to any industry, including agriculture, and having a robust offering of agricultural classroom opportunities in our high schools is important if we want to maintain our food supply.  At the core of providing educational opportunities in agriculture, is the all-important agriculture teacher. Thank you for doing what you do.

Ritchie unveils agricultural plan for 2016-17 State Senate budget

New York State Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan, center, and State Senator Patty Ritchie, left, learn about milking from farm owner Michael B. Kiechle, right, while at the Garden of Eden Farm. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

New York State Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan, center, and State Senator Patty Ritchie, left, learn about milking from farm owner Michael B. Kiechle, right, while at the Garden of Eden Farm. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

ALBANY — State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, highlighted Tuesday a renewed agricultural focus in the 2016-17 Senate budget aimed at continuing financial, research and employment support for New York state’s agriculture industry. [Read more…]