|By JANE HOUIN
LAKEVILLE, Ohio — The National FFA Organization has come a long way from its humble beginnings in Kansas City in 1928 as the Future Farmers of America.
Now more than 490,000 members strong, 7,210 FFA chapters from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will celebrate National FFA Week, Feb. 18-25.
The focus of National FFA Week is to tell America about the great opportunities available for all youth. FFA is committed to developing character and leadership skills and preparing members for a lifetime of civic leadership and personal and career success.
Since 1928, millions of agriculture students, even the FFA Organization is not sure of the exact number, have donned the official national blue and corn gold FFA jacket and have reaped the benefits of agricultural education with an emphasis on premier leadership, personal growth, and career success.
The 33 young farm boys who gathered at Kansas City’s Baltimore Hotel could not have predicted how the organization they founded would grow and thrive. The organization first celebrated National FFA Day in 1933, changing their celebration to National FFA Week in 1948, celebrating their organization during the week of George Washington’s birthday in honor of his contributions to American agriculture.
Since its founding, the FFA has celebrated many landmark moments: the 1965 merger with the New Farmers of America, the organization for African-American students; the 1969 addition of females to their membership rolls; the 1988 name change from the Future Farmers of America to the National FFA Organization to better reflect and encompass the more than 300 careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture; and the final national convention to be hosted in Kansas City in 1998 to name a few.
More changes remain in store as the organization continues to grow, having moved its national headquarters to Indianapolis in 1998 and now preparing to move it’s national convention from Louisville to Indianapolis this fall.
What has not changed, however, are the opportunities for personal leadership and skill growth the organization provides for agricultural education students. This year, the organization’s theme is Living to Serve - part of the FFA motto the millions of past and present FFA members are so familiar with. FFA members have opportunities to attend national leadership conferences, develop a supervised learning project, learn life skills, and serve their communities with service projects.
Keaton Lorentz, a 17-year old junior at West Holmes High School and three year member of the West Holmes FFA is one such student. As sentinel of his chapter, Lorentz, the son of Larry and Nancy Lorentz of Lakeville, Ohio, will be visiting local elementary schools this week to share the importance of agriculture with elementary students in both Millersburg and Nashville through the Food for America program.
“This year we’re going to be focusing on dairy products when we visit the schools,” said Lorentz, whose supervised agricultural experience includes job placement on his family farm and raising hogs for the county fair. “We’re even going to be making ice cream for the students in their classrooms.”
Of course, the West Holmes chapter will be choosing to celebrate their organization with some fun activities as well. They will be sponsoring themed dress days at their school this week with a hillbilly/flannel and long johns day, a cowboy/cowgirl day, a blue and gold day, a drive-your-tractor-to-school day, and a camouflage/Carhartt day, according to advisor Jaime Chenevey.
There will also be questions of the day where students at their high school can learn more about FFA.
The week will culminate for the members with an Ag Olympics assembly Friday afternoon for the entire high school featuring a bale toss, milk chug, wheelbarrow race, pedal tractor bull, milk the cow contest, and a kiss the mystery animal by a teacher contest. And it just wouldn’t be an Ag Olympics without a cow-pie eating contest.
“We have the cow-pie eating contest at the assembly,” said Lorentz with a smile in his voice. “It’s really just a chocolate pudding pie, but it looks kind of like a cow pie.”
But Lorentz said FFA is not just about fun and games, it’s a real learning experience as well.
“It’s taught me a lot more about responsibility,” Lorentz said. “I’ve done a lot better with leadership and public speaking. I don’t think I’ll ever be perfect or that talking in front of groups will be easy, but I’ve improved a lot.”
His fellow FFA members must have confidence in his growing leadership abilities as well; in April he will assume the role of chapter vice president at their annual banquet. Lorentz also said he has learned a lot about record keeping, especially through the state degree application process.
“FFA is a great organization,” said Lorentz. “I’ve met a lot of new friends that I never would have met otherwise. You don’t have to be from a farm to be an FFA member; it used to be that way and a lot of people still think you have to live on a farm or that it’s just for boys. But this year we’ve done a job interview contest, ag sales and ag business. We really branch out into a lot more than farming alone.”
Lorentz’s success must run in the family. Father Larry served as the FFA advisor in Fredericktown, Ohio, where the official FFA jacket was developed and is still made, from 1971-77, while both of Keaton’s older brothers, Scott and Kurt, were members of the West Holmes FFA as well.
Scott earned both state and American FFA degrees, and Kurt, who graduated last year, earned his state degree.
This farm news was published in the February 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.