July 2017
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: The Future of Farming

 

The 2016-2017 State FFA Officer Team are (from left, front) Hanna Black,  Arab FFA, reporter; Sierra Goodwin, Danville FFA, president; Becky Hawkins, Eufaula FFA, treasurer; (back) Ethan Mobley, Red Bay FFA, vice president; Torran Smith, Reeltown FFA, sentinel; and Ben Castleberry, Pell City FFA, secretary.

In 1917, the National Vocational Education Act, also known as the Smith-Hughes Act, was passed by the U.S. Congress. Vocational education is an important component of the secondary school program. The Vocational Education Act provided federal aid for the purpose of promoting precollegiate vocational education and training. At the time of its passage, the United States was engaged in World War I. Seeing the need for technical skills, not only to be competitive in the global economy but for military purposes, Hoke Smith and Dudley Hughes set out to write this piece of legislation. This bill was spurred because of the need for the growth of our infrastructure, as well as its influence on the importance of moral, informative, educational vocational work. In other words, it was seen that Americans needed to be educated in the soft skills we hear about so often today; but also in the vocational skills and knowledge that would be needed for the technological growth to come in our nation.

This is not dissimilar to the state of our country today. Career and technical education has been through many metamorphoses, but one thing remains … the development of project-based/experiential learning and the training of young leaders has been a staple of vocational education. Organizations such as the National FFA Organization have taught students the leadership skills to put into practice the hands-on vocational skills needed to grow a nation of competent and experienced leaders. While FFA focuses on agriculture, the lessons learned in the classrooms, labs, shops, greenhouses and events have prepared student members for a multitude of careers and challenges.

Alabama FFA has recently celebrated 89 years of life, with the annual FFA State Convention held this past June. Over 2,000 FFA members and guests descended upon Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel and Spa to take part in the convention. Knowing agriculture has changed, Alabama FFA has adapted to the changes. New technology in agriculture has asked the questions, "How do we rewrite courses and FFA contests to incorporate emerging technology and precision farming?" and "How, as an organization, do we continue to engage the youth of our state, grow leaders, build communities and strengthen agriculture?"

The answer is threefold. As we move into the technological future, agriculturists must come together in one accord, regardless of commodity groups to defend the industry that gives everyone so much. Agriculture itself must be positively marketed in ways that touch the core of all people. Finally, agriculturists, educators, parents, the agriculture industry and the industrial trades will need to have a strong presence in the global economy with new and technologically savvy employees who have hands-on practical skills and leadership ability. Career and technical educations in our high schools and colleges are the place where this magic happens. Echoing back to the beginnings of what Smith and Hughes envisioned vocational students to be: prepared, experienced and moral leaders of tomorrow. None of this happens without the teachers in the classrooms inspiring students or the agricultural industry partners taking notice of organizations such as FFA and partnering with them to develop curriculum and contests that are industry driven to develop the workforce needed.

The Ranburne FFA Chapter with their first place Livestock Evaluation Banner.

 

This comes at a price. Not everyone gets rich in this game of life. As a classroom vocational agriculture teacher, agriscience educator, shop teacher or whatever you called me, I reminded my students that everyone who is anyone pays their dues. Not just FFA or shop dues, mind you, but to climb the ladder of personal success you must not be afraid of work, getting your hands dirty or failure. I would then share what Thomas Edison said about the light bulb he invented and his 10,000 failures, but many of you might miss this statement also by Edison, "We often miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." As we continue to navigate this new horizon of agriculture we have to remember our first job is to engage our youth and to market to those individuals the great and most noble profession of farming, ranching and all of agriculture.

I don’t know if Smith and Hughes saw a shining city on a hill or had a vision of grandeur with their legislation, but they definitely saw a bright future. This future is filled with students who have the leadership and vocational skills and knowledge to move this nation and the world forward. FFA is one of those organizations that continues to adapt to the future and promotes those hands-on and leadership skills by creating opportunities for student members. For those partners who made the 89th Alabama FFA Convention a possibility, to those FFA members across our state and to those agriculture teachers who provided an opportunity for those students, we say, "Thank you."

As always, I would like to encourage you to reach out to your local high school FFA chapter and become involved in the work of the organization. Teachers and members meet your community halfway. Reach out to them by inviting them to take part in the great work of your chapters.

 

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