This is the image of the National FFA Organization in 2011. A modern, forward thinking youth organization.
This may be the stereotype etched in your memory.
Gangly, awkward teenagers running around in less-than fashionable corduroy jackets.
And at times, in small towns across the country, there were lots of gangly, awkward teenagers running around town in corduroy jackets.
You may have even wondered, "What's up with all those kids and aren't they hot in those jackets?"
In case you didn't already know, it's National FFA Week. A week dedicated to celebrating all those kids and their corduroy jackets. And a few other things.
I could use this space to help you understand all the wonderful things about the National FFA Organization. (That's the name, now, by the way. They stopped calling if the Future Farmers of America twenty-three years ago.) Instead, I want to take this space to shed some light on the state of the agricultural education in my small town.
One year ago, ag education took a major hit in funding and support from the local administration and local school board. The program was cut back to half-time. Half the usual number of classes and a half-time teacher - who also was responsible for running the concession stand at dozens of home football games and coaching wrestling and track. This was the best the school district could put forth.
Today, things have changed. The school district has advertised to hire a full-time agriculture education instructor and re-instate the program to it full-time status. Much applause!
The timing couldn't be better - for a number of reasons:
- 25 ag education graduates from Kansas State University are seeking employment. Currently, there are two openings across the entire state. The opportunity to hire a young, eager, top-of-the-class teacher is literally knocking on the door.
- Current, local FFA membership is up. Involvement is down. That says we have lots of interested students - but a teacher without the time to get the students involved in valuable ag ed programs.
- 3% of Americans are food producers. But 20% of Americans have jobs tied to agribusiness. Take a quick drive around town and that's easy to see. Agriculture education benefits not just the future farmers, but the future Kan-Equip or John Deere employee, the future banker and the future machinist at Great Plains manufacturing. An investment in ag education is, simplistically, an investment in your future work force and the future patrons of your school district.
- 100% of Americans are food consumers. And the majority of those are generations removed from the farm and lack a basic understanding how food is produced in this country and around the globe. We need food literacy - we need people to understand how their food arrives at the local grocery store. Furthermore, we need 100% more food in the next 50 years to feed the growing world population. If you want your children to have job security, encourage them to learn about agricultural careers through the local ag education classes.
- Agriculture education has the solid support of this ranching, farming, and manufacturing community. Cutting back ag education here, can be likened to cutting back basketball in Milan, Indiana. (Don't take that wrong - I played and loved basketball in my small town high school. But making the all-county basketball team didn't help me get through college or instill within me the understanding and passion for an industry that feeds the world.)
For me, National FFA Week is a chance to remember all the wonderful ways my involvement helped me prepare for a lifetime of service to the agricultural industry. And, it's an opportunity to speak out to ensure the same opportunities are presented to the next generation of agriculturalists.
Happy National FFA Week, folks!