National FFA Organization photo.
By Payal Gangishetty
Nonprofit Sector News
July 2, 2020
One major challenge that confronts agriculture around the world today is that the children of farmers, by and large, are not interested in their familial occupation. Simply put, the majority of the world’s youth have negative perceptions of farming.
To address this challenge and make agriculture attractive to the youth, the Future Farmers of America, also known as the National FFA Organization, is devoted to attracting, educating and preparing students for the future with leadership opportunities through agriculture education.
“We encourage our members to involve themselves in career and leadership development events, usually called as LDEs and CDEs, as they challenge them to develop critical thinking and effective decision-making skills,” said Kristy Meyer, communications manager of the National FFA organization. CDE and LDE events occur at the local, state and national level.
Today, the organization has a membership of 700,170, up from 669,989 in 2018. FFA chapters can be found in 24 of the 25 largest US cities — although the majority of them are located in rural areas and small towns.
Meyer said, “The membership of the organization has been on a steady increase for the last few years. FFA is providing future leaders, and our membership growth reflects continued enthusiasm for agriculture as well as agricultural education. Moreover, through hands-on experiences, agriculture educators are helping our students develop the technical knowledge and problem-solving capabilities to be the industry’s leaders of tomorrow.” New membership numbers of the organization will be out later this summer.
Meanwhile, FFA chapters are not only working hard to engage people from the rural backgrounds in agricultural activities, but also conducting programs across urban areas to promote healthy communities through urban and rural agriculture, community gardening, and other related environmental justice activities.
Meyer explained, “We are working on reaching out to as many people as possible and not restrict ourselves to specific regions. In the last few years, we have found that agriculture’s image among young people is changing — an increasing number of youngsters are now turning to farming and the food system as a viable career path.”
While the aging profile of farmers has become a matter of concern for developing countries, the average age of all US farm producers has been rising for four decades. It was 50.3 years for the principal operator in the 1978 census, 53.3 years in 1992, 57.1 years in 2007, 58.3 years in 2012, and now is 59.4 years. (However, this roughly tracks the rise in the median average age of Americans, which was 30 in 1980 and 38.2 in 2018.)
Interestingly, the average age of new/beginning farmers is 46.3 years, which means a quarter of them are newcomers, according to a 2017 agricultural census.
Meanwhile, as the global pandemic scare continues across the country, many schools and universities have turned to virtual learning, and after-school activities have come to a halt. What hasn’t ended, however, is FFA members living out the FFA motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.
Meyer said, “Our members are constantly being innovative and looking for the positives. They are making the best use of the current situation by learning and sharing new things with the local communities while continuing to practice social distancing protocols.”
The National FFA Organization website reports that in Indiana, the Western Boone County FFA kicked off “Milk & Meat for Boone County”— the FFA chapter purchased milk, beef, and pork from Indiana businesses at discount prices to help both farmers and the public during the coronavirus pandemic. The chapter supplied the products to the Caring Center and Western Boon’s food pantry and provided donations for more than three months in the hope of meeting increased needs. The students — who originally hoped to raise $7,500, raised $17,000 to address food insecurity in Boone County while helping local farmers.
Jaden Mazea, president of the Western Boon FFA chapter, says farmers are some of the most selfless people on the earth and it is the duty of FFA members to give back to them.
Meanwhile, the sudden lockdown has made it difficult for the FFA members to achieve the target set for the Living to Serve Chapter Challenge, a nationwide initiative to complete 930,000 collective service hours before the 93 rd National FFA Expo, which is scheduled to be held this October.
Michele Sullivan, senior manager of FFA Local Engagement, said, “Through the Living to Serve Chapter Challenge, we wanted to provide a platform for the FFA members and chapters to share their experience working with the local communities and inspire others to serve. However, considering the present situation, it looks like we won’t be able to complete 930,000 collective service hours this year, but our students and chapters are actively engaging themselves in services across the country.” Though the chapter challenge initiative was meant only for the FFA chapters, individual FFA members are also allowed to log their service hours now.
Moreover, for FFA members who are planning on staying on the farm as agricultural producers, the organization offers a program called New Century Farmer, which allows an elite group of FFA alumni between the ages 18 and 24 to attend the all-expenses-paid New Century Farmer conference. The conference provides an opportunity to FFA members to advance their leadership, personal and career skills. During the five-day conference, the FFA members learn from each other and industry experts on topics that are relevant to young producers.
Enough funds to carry out all programs
Donations and grants have been the backbone of the FFA programs, grants and scholarships. The National FFA Foundation offers more than $740,000 in grants to local FFA chapters and $2.7 million in scholarships each year. Earlier this year, the national organization was able to raise $200,000 in 24 hours during a virtual annual fundraising day in February.
Nicole Beckley, the marketing, communications and engagement manager at the national FFA Foundation, said, “The pandemic has definitely changed the way we approach fund raising activities and connect with our donors, but we haven’t faced any shortage of funds over the last few years nor do we anticipate it in the coming days.”
While many things in the agriculture industry are changing with the time, the national organization continues to shape many young people who are now working in fields, such as farming, research and technology.