July 2008
The Business of Farming

  The State Officers met on January 26-27, 2007 to begin the planning process for the 78th Annual State FFA Convention on the campus of Auburn University. The State Convention will be June 6, 7, & 8, 2007. Pictured from front to rear are: Jerika Buttram, Geraldine; Salora Wright, Clements; Brandon Smith, Slocomb; Justin Posey, Montevallo; Caleb Colquitt, Marbury; and Travis McGowin, Billingsley.
A History of FFA

In the early 1900s, a U. S. Senator and a U.S. Representative from Georgia believed that rural youth were not receiving their fair share of federal education dollars. The congressmen, representing mostly rural people, also believed rural youth deserved just as much a chance at education as their urban counterparts. Thus the two men sponsored legislation providing the initial funding for vocational agriculture, home economics, and trade and industrial arts education. This resulted in legislation bearing their names, titled the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 and what would become known as vocational education for nearly a century in the U.S created vocational agriculture classes across America.

Virginia, in the mid 1920s, was the first state to form a future farmers club for boys in agricultural education classes, which later became known as the Future Farmers of Virginia. Henry Groseclose, who was an agriculture teacher from Blacksburg, Virginia, is commonly known as the father of the FFA. In just a few short years Future Farmers’ clubs were organized across the country. A similar group for African-American students was also established called the New Farmers’ clubs.

In 1926, the American Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City, Missouri, invited vocational agriculture students to participate in livestock judging events. Two years later, also at the American Royal, students from across the United States met to establish the Future Farmers of America, which was to provide farm boys leadership training. Thirty-three delegates from 18 states met at the Hotel Baltimore in November 1928. Leslie Applegate of New Jersey was elected as the first national FFA president, and the first national advisor was Dr. C.H. Lane. National dues were set at 10 cents per member.

In 1928 the first sectional gathering of the New Farmers of America (NFA), the group established for African-American boys, paved the way for its founding in 1935. Dr. H. O. Sargent, a federal agricultural education official, conceived the idea of a national New Farmers of America Organization. G.W. Owens and J.R. Thomas, who taught at Virginia State College, co-authored the NFA constitution and the FFA and NFA merged in 1965.

In honor of Dr. Sargent, the FFA offers two awards relating to diversity. The H. O. Sargent Member Award and Non-member Award recognize members who achieve diversity in agricultural education and FFA.

Alabama was the 36th state to receive its charter in 1929. The original charter certificate, signed by Henry Groseclose and written by hand, hangs in the office of the Career/Technical Education Field Office at Auburn. Earl Solomon of Uriah (Monroe County) was the first state president. The oldest living former state president is Mr. Austin Ezell of the Spruce Pine Chapter (Franklin County), who served in 1933. FFA chapters across Alabama were assigned charter numbers according to schools or names of the chapters and Abbeville High School (Henry County) bears the distinction of having the charter number of AL0001. After the initial charter numbers were distributed numbers were assigned to chapters as they joined the state association.

At the third national convention in 1930, the FFA creed was adopted. It is one of the longest-standing parts of the organization. Erwin Milton (E.M.) Tiffany of Wisconsin wrote it. The creed was revised in 1965 and 1990; however, the basic values and beliefs of the creed are still intact and remain a solid foundation for the FFA’s principles.

As stated earlier, the National FFA Organization started out as the Future Farmers of America, and this name was used for 60 years. However, in 1988 the name was changed to the National FFA Organization. The current name maintains the organization’s roots, while reflecting the science, business, and technology of agriculture. An interesting sidebar - girls were admitted into the FFA in 1969.

The FFA is one of two student organizations to have a federal charter. The Boy Scouts Organization is the other. Public Law 740, passed by Congress in 1950, made FFA an "intracurricular" part of the agriscience education program. FFA activities are now considered to be a part of the agriscience curriculum and are not to be considered as "extracurricular."

One of FFA’s most widely recognized symbols is the blue corduroy jacket. Dr. Gus Lintner, advisor of the Fredericktown (Ohio) FFA Chapter was looking for a uniform for the Fredericktown Band, which was to appear at the 1933 national convention. His design of the blue corduroy jacket captured the attention of the official delegates and they voted to adopt it as FFA’s official dress.

Alabama has had 13 national officers. Jennifer Himburg from Ariton (Dale County) currently serves as Southern Region Vice President. Two served as national secretary and the others as Southern Region Vice President. The Falkville Chapter (Morgan County) had back to back national officers in 1985-86, Robert Weaver, and 1986-87, Jayme Feary.

The state convention has been held in three cities: Auburn, Birmingham, and Montgomery. From 1934 to1946, the convention was in Auburn. Birmingham hosted the convention in 1947. The convention returned to Auburn in 1948 and remained till 1968. (There was not a state convention in 1966.) The convention moved to Montgomery’s Garrett Coliseum in 1969 and remained there until 1976. In 1977 through 2003, the convention was held at the Montgomery Civic Center. Auburn became the host city again in 2004 and the convention is still held there annually.

FFA districts in Alabama date back to 1934, when several chapters organized themselves into three districts, simply called districts one, two, and three. Although membership in districts was voluntary, most chapters chose to affiliate themselves with a district to take advantage of the member opportunities available at that level.

By 1936, Alabama had 22 districts that included 114 of the state’s 138 chapters. Most of these districts were named for a nearby city, although a few were named for a county or geographic location. Some of these districts were Andalusia, DeKalb County, Gadsden, East Alabama, Montgomery, and Muscle Shoals.

The number and size of districts has varied a great deal over the years, as districts often were reorganized every few years based upon membership trends and the number of state staff members. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Alabama was divided into five districts. In the mid 1960s, the state was organized into four districts. Several years later Alabama had six district with a seventh district added in the 1970s. In 1991, Alabama was divided into four districts, and in 2000 the state was divided into three districts: North, Central, and South. Today, the district organization continues to be a vital component of the Alabama FFA, as it provides opportunities for leadership and friendly competition among chapters.

The Alabama FFA has had eight state advisors. C.W. Reed served the longest at 18 years. R.E. Cammack, who served from 1930-1946, became the first State Vocational Director, now career/technical director. T.L. Faulkner, who served from 1957-1970, left agriscience education as state advisor and became the State Vocational Director. B.P. Dilworth, succeeded Faulkner as state advisor and also succeeded Faulkner as interim State Vocational Director. There have been 10 State FFA Executive Secretaries. Troy Newton, who is the current state advisor, served 18 years as Alabama’s FFA Executive Secretary. Jacob Davis is the current executive secretary.

Byron Rawls, who was Alabama’s executive secretary from1960-1964, eventually became the national FFA advisor and served from 1979 to 1983.

Alabama, just like the national FFA, has had a terrific history. From its humble beginnings in the late 1920s to the technological 2000s, FFA has played a key role in helping make life better for millions of young people. Although production agriculture practices are not taught as much today as in the 1900s, the FFA still inspires youth to success through its many activities and purposes.

Philip Paramore is a State Staff Member for Alabama FFA.