April 2018
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: Celebrating the Most Noble Employment

National FFA Week was February 17-24.

National FFA Week, a weeklong tradition started in 1948, runs Saturday to Saturday coinciding with George Washington’s birthday and Presidents’ Day. Think of National FFA Week as homecoming week for FFA members. George Washington’s presence continues to live on as a part of FFA history and ceremony.

FFA members in Chilton County attend a FFA Rally and tour of the Chilton County Research and Experiment Station.

 

One of the reasons this particular week was chosen is due to Washington’s legacy as an agriculturist and farmer, not to mention his accomplishments as a patriot and founding father.

This year, FFA week was Feb. 17-24.

As you may know, the National FFA Organization is a youth organization founded by young farmers in 1928 and is so much more today. FFA is an agricultural organization, a leadership organization, a training ground for future agriculturists, a life-skill builder and one of the three key components of the agriculture education. The other two are classroom and laboratory (shop) instruction, and supervised agricultural education projects (work-based, hands-on learning).

FFA chapters all across the nation celebrated FFA week in many different ways. As part of Alabama’s celebration, we were fortunate enough to have the National FFA Eastern Region Vice President Gracie Furnish of Kentucky as well as our local program specialist and National FFA staff member Frank Saldana with us.

 

We were pleased to have Eastern Region Vice President Gracie Furnish and National FFA staff member Frank Saldana with us for FFA week.

Hosting this pair was a great experience for me. It reminded me a little of my time as a FFA member. Here you are with two strangers, more or less, and thrown in a car to travel the highways and byways of Alabama. You get to know each other quickly - much like FFA leadership trips and workshops.

During this whirlwind tour, I wanted to introduce our guests to as many FFA members as possible and to show them some Alabama agriculture, without burning anyone out.

After our initial meeting at the Birmingham airport on Monday afternoon, we were off to Lake Guntersville State Park. We arrived and checked into the lodge. We were just in time to catch a beautiful sunset over Lake Guntersville.

In staying at the park with our National FFA guests, I wanted to share a little with them about how great our Alabama state parks are and what a great resource we have. Lake Guntersville State Park did not disappoint.

Leaving early Tuesday morning, we set out for Albertville High School, where we were invited to be a part of the Albertville FFA Teacher Appreciation Breakfast before their FFA Rally began.

The purpose of the FFA rallies was to allow Furnish the opportunity to inspire FFA members by telling her FFA story. She grew up on a diversified farm in Kentucky raising beef cattle and burley tobacco.

The Alabama FFA State Officer Team, along with the North District FFA Officers and 180-plus FFA members from a variety of FFA chapters, was present to hear the great keynote address presented by Furnish. After her remarks, FFA members had the opportunity to visit with her.

It has been 11 years since Alabama has hosted a National FFA officer during National FFA Week. Now, before you say, "Wow, that is a long time," national officers’ visits during FFA weeks are done on a rotational basis of all the states in our region of the nation.

Also noteworthy is that we have the pleasure of having a National FFA officer each year as part of our state convention.

Thank you to FFA officers and advisors from the Albertville chapter for kicking off our trip in such a great fashion.

FFA members attend a FFA Rally at Albertville High School during National FFA Week.

 

After the rally at Albertville High School, we went to Pell City High School for the afternoon. The Pell City FFA Chapter officers provided a great lunch before Furnish led another great rally with over 100 members and guests.

All along our route, I made it a point to travel through our great little towns in Alabama, highlighting the main streets and Americana as much as possible and sharing a little more about Alabama’s agriculture industry and resources.

Leaving Pell City early Wednesday morning found us in Shelby County at Shelby County High School and meeting with FFA members there.

Our guests had the opportunity to meet with FFA members and students who collaborate with Taziki’s founder Keith Richards and the HOPE (Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment) program. What a great way to share some of the positive things FFA members and chapters are doing to give back and continue to live to serve.

Continuing south toward our state’s capital, we stopped to look at some of the history of our capital, including some of the historic buildings and monuments representing our diverse culture.

One reason for this stop, besides the rich history of Alabama, was Alabama Farmers Cooperative Annual Membership Meeting. Our very own State FFA Secretary Gracen Sims was the official flag bearer and had the privilege to recite the FFA Creed. The Eufaula FFA Quartet performed the national anthem. We had the opportunity to listen to the keynote address delivered by Inky Johnson.

A special thank you to our friends at AFC for the invitation to be a part of your meeting and for all you do to support FFA and agriculture in Alabama.

Once Montgomery was behind us, we were off to Chilton County, the geographical center of Alabama and one of our leading agricultural counties.

On Thursday morning, we assembled at the Chilton County Research and Experiment Station, where Furnish delivered a great keynote. Maplesville FFA Chapter presented her with a beautiful FFA checkerboard custom built by the students at Maplesville High School.

Jim Pitts with the experiment station provided the crowd with a tour of the station and did a wonderful job explaining the research and the history of Auburn University, and the existence and importance of the experiment stations.

We had beautiful weather for a day outside and great FFA members and advisors to join us. We give a heartfelt thank you to Joe Dennis and Pitts for arranging this tour.

After we concluded the tour, we went to Montevallo High School and the Central District FFA Mock Interviews. Over 30 FFA members from across the Central District were a part of this practice opportunity. They also had a chance to meet with Furnish and the Central District officers and ask questions about their FFA journey.

Thank you to the Montevallo FFA Alumni and Montevallo FFA Chapter for hosting the event this year.

After a long day, we arrived in Auburn.

Friday morning, we took tours of downtown and the university campus. I explained the significance of the Toomer’s oaks and the rolling of the famous corner, Samford Hall and Ag Hill, and showcased a few of our research farms and units to our guests. Of course, we strolled in front of Jordan-Hare Stadium and back to Toomer’s.

 

Past, current and future FFA members take part in Reeltown High School’s FFA Farm Day as part of National FFA Week.

Our week was quickly ending as we departed Auburn University for Reeltown High School FFA and their Farm Day. FFA members at Reeltown present a program to elementary students. The Farm Day displayed what FFA and agriculture have to offer once the students enter seventh grade.

Reeltown FFA members administered the booths and organized the program. Booths included a dairy exhibit, a horse demonstration, cattle exhibits, hunter and outdoor education, welding, poultry and others. What a great opportunity to get to meet the future of FFA.

Agriscience teacher Clint Burgess shared that the chapter vice president, the committee chair for Farm Day, became interested in FFA because of her participation in a Farm Day when she was in elementary school.

What a powerful note to end such a great week.

As I delivered our National FFA guests to the airport, I could not help but think about all of the memories: chapters, towns, schools, Alabama’s agricultural diversity and, most especially, FFA members. What an opportunity for them to meet with a National FFA officer who inspired them to try new things, reach out of their comfort zone and live to serve others.

Thank you to the National FFA Organization for sharing Eastern Region Vice President Gracie Furnish with Alabama FFA.

This National FFA Week adventure also reminded me of Alabama’s wealth of history and culture, and that her people still believe in the future of agriculture … and they still need agriculture.

From the small farms and towns to the biggest of cities, I am grateful for the opportunity to share Alabama and Alabama FFA with our national leaders. I hope each of your FFA members and chapters had a fantastic FFA week.

 

Andy Chamness is the Central District Specialist with the Alabama FFA Association.