Today’s National FFA Organization (FFA) isn’t just for farm kids.
With its leadership development, personal growth and career success rooted in agricultural education, FFA has been blurring the lines between country and city, attracting students of all backgrounds. Although it was formerly known as “Future Farmers of America” for its first 60 years, the majority of today’s FFA members do not come from a farm background!
FACT: Roughly 62% of all SD FFA members do NOT live on a farm or ranch!
South Dakota FFA includes 95 local student chapters from East to West River, including 10 chapters within a 20-mile radius of Sioux Falls. Local chapters are chartered in a public school with an agricultural education program at the high-school level. Some chapters also serve middle-school students, including 34 in the state.
“Every person is or will be a consumer of ag products in their lifetime. We help them make smarter, more-informed choices and advocate for agriculture as a whole,” said Gerri Eide, executive director of the South Dakota FFA Foundation. “With ag as our state’s number one industry, it matters to us all.”
NEWBS WELCOME TOO
All are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fourth-generation farm kid or your only exposure to ag is playing Farming Simulator 19 on Playstation® or just that you know food comes from farms — there’s a place for everyone in FFA.
As one of the largest youth organizations, FFA offers the opportunity to explore diverse topics in science, business and technology for students in grades 7 to 12 who live in both urban, suburban and rural areas.
Led by 107 ag educators overseeing 95 local student chapters, there are more than 4,600 active FFA members across the state.
“CITY KID” BROTHERS DO WELL IN FFA
Derick Peters first joined Hartford’s West Central FFA chapter his sophomore year of high school when the advisor recruited him for the Ag Issues Forum team, which is similar in style to a debate club.
He came back to FFA as a senior for an opportunity to join a team that made it to nationals in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, they lost a tight tie-breaker to a California chapter while debating the pros and cons of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
FFA showed him “there’s a lot more to farming than just planting; so much ‘behind the scenes’ that most people don’t have any exposure to. It definitely diversified my base of ag knowledge for sure.”
Derick said FFA is similar to a sport like cross country, which he’s been part of in high school and now competes in at the college level.
“FFA is a very individual- but also team-oriented sport. You work very hard for your individual results but that also benefits your team too. You can better yourself as well as get support and motivation from your team.”
Braden Peters saw his older brother Derick having fun in the West Central FFA chapter. So Braden also joined as a sophomore and led an Ag Issues Forum team that was successful enough to compete at the state level for three years straight.
His favorite memory was being stuck in Pierre from a snowstorm in his junior year of state competition. Deb Peters, mom (and then state legislator), gave the FFA team a tour of the state Capitol, which most of his teammates had never seen before.
As accountants, parents of the brothers were a little surprised they both wanted to join FFA but were very supportive and learned more about ag as well.
Braden said he went in with no expectations and encourages everyone to give it a try, even if you’re not sure it’s for you.
“I was definitely more of a ‘city kid,’ so I’m proof that FFA is for everybody — kids who live in town or on a farm!”
“WAY MORE THAN COWS, SOWS & PLOWS”
“FFA has become stronger and expanded over the years. Now it’s way more than cows, sows and plows,” said Dr. Clark Hanson, professor emeritus of agricultural education at SDSU in Brookings.
“It’s not just competitive, but career awareness,” he said. FFA offers all students an opportunity to be part of a team, compete, and be recognized for achievements.
“You engage them in a topic that interests them and you get a chance to see what they’re capable of doing. And some of them will really surprise you!”
LEARNING & LEADING
With around 22 million Americans working in an agriculture-related field, FFA helps prepare students for more than 300 possible careers.
Important life-long skills, such as public speaking and even parliamentary procedure, boost student confidence that can benefit them in future careers of all kinds.
Ag education overlaps STEAM-based curriculum in science, technology, engineering, art and math. This gives students a glimpse into diverse career paths ranging from genetics to landscaping, and food science to floriculture, communications, medical and more.
The FFA model relies on a three-part approach:
- Classroom/lab learning,
- Supervised Ag Education (SAE) outside the classroom, and
- FFA's leadership opportunities.
Hands-on learning means schools could have a greenhouse or garden plots, or even larger field plots. Other chapters may offer beekeeping or hydroponics, or animals to help raise.
COMPETITION & RECOGNITION
Honoring achievements through recognition is an important aspect of FFA. Through Career and Leadership Development Events, members are challenged to work as individuals and teams to demonstrate their proficiency in competitions. Proficiency awards in 47 areas recognize individual skills and career-based competencies.
For example, 180 students participated in 2019 and 23 agriscience fair projects went on to national competition, with several earning top honors in their category.
SERVING TOMORROW’S COMMUNITIES
With its motto of “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, and Living to Serve,” FFA is helping develop tomorrow’s community leaders, whether it be holding public office or volunteering in some capacity.
“We put an emphasis on service. We teach them to give back to their communities by being engaged and aware,” said Eide from the South Dakota FFA Foundation.
“We support South Dakota FFA and #FFAWeek because of its core ag-education efforts, of course, but also because it teaches the next generation how to stand up and advocate for all our farmers, regardless of the career path students may ultimately choose. All facets of agriculture depend on young leaders to get involved in some way, as educated advocates, or maybe running a farm, running for office or running an ag-related business.”