Granville FFA salute

B y Linda Ellingsworth

First organized in 1928 with a goal to stop the trend of young boys leaving the family farm, FFA, originally Future Farmers of America, has grown into a national organization of 610,240 individual FFA members and 7,665 local chapters in all 50 states.

It is the largest student organization in the world.

Today, the National FFA Organization remains committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Students are inspired by the organization’s motto “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”

While FFA continues to emphasize the importance of agriculture, members in 2015 are also likely to be future biologists, future chemists, future veterinarians, future engineers and future entrepreneurs of America.

Here in Washington County, where agriculture is still the number one industry, FFA is thriving in local schools.

In Greenwich, home of the Washington County Fair, agriculture is big and so is the FFA. The school has about 200 students in agriculture classes, and about half of them are in the school’s FFA chapter.

“To be in the FFA, students have to be in a high school agriculture class,” said FFA advisor and Ag. teacher Betsy Foote. “We pride ourselves on our complete program; the FFA is the leadership component.”

She noted that the county fair is a highlight of the year for students who grow crops and raise livestock.

Last year, she said, two of Greenwich’s Ag students served as emcees for the fair’s opening ceremony.

Following the county fair, several FFA students then head to Syracuse for the New York State Fair, where they show cows and participate in dairy judging.

This time of year, FFA members are prepping for sub-district and district competitions, with hopes of making it to the state level. On March 21, the sub-state competition will determine which two students will go on to the state competition.

The Greenwich FFA will host its 26th annual Farm Toy Show on Saturday, March 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the school gymnasium. At 2 p.m., a live auction will take place.

“It is completely student-run,” said Foote. “The gym will be packed with vendors and collections on display.”

Another Greenwich FFA project is Breakfast with Santa Claus, which the students host in December. The breakfast is not a fundraiser, it is strictly a community service project, said Foote.

She remains impressed with the caliber of students involved in the organization in Washington County.

“In our local area,” she said, “we have a state officer and a district president. Our area is very well-represented.”

FFA also has an active chapter in the Salem Central School District.

“It’s a great youth organization that is recognized nationwide,” said Amy Maxwell, the Salem FFA advisor.

Salem has about 40 students in the senior high school and a “very active” group of 10 students in the junior high. One of the junior high students, Philip Rea, put together an FFA Week in February, featuring a different theme each day. There was a Hat Day fundraiser, a Trivia Day, a “Dress Like a Farmer” day, and a “Great Debate – John Deere vs. International” day.

Students are currently conducting their annual strawberry sale, which benefits local charities.

The school is also serving as host for the sub-district level of leadership competitions.

“There’s still a lot of interest (in FFA) in Salem,” said Maxwell.

Like many Washington County towns, Hartford has a strong dairy farming tradition and maintains an active FFA club at the Hartford Central School.

According to Hartford’s FFA advisor Tricia Stewart, the 40-member club keeps busy with activities throughout the year. One of the first outings of the school year is to FFA Camp Oswegatchie in Croghan, N.Y.

“We take about 20 students to camp,” said Stewart. She noted that the Hartford club goes to the camp at the same time as FFA students from Salem and Greenwich, so they get to know each other.

Even students who aren’t currently in the club are welcome to go to the camp, which is such an enjoyable experience, that many go on to become members.

“The kids who start it stay with it,” she said. “Once they’re in, they’re hooked.”

The Hartford club also has a dairy judging team, which competes at the state fair in Syracuse. The members attend the state convention, got to the SUNY Cobleskill Dairy Cattle Sale, and do at least one college visit during the year.

Locals know the Hartford FFA through their big fruit sale and their October Chicken Barbecue, which is one of their biggest fundraisers, said Stewart.

The club’s end of the year banquet wraps up the school year, which is when senior scholarships are announced. Last year, she noted, the club awarded five scholarships to graduating seniors.

Argyle still has a very active FFA club, with about 45 students currently listed as members from both the junior high and senior high schools.

“It’s a very positive experience,” said advisor Kim Michel. “The state FFA convention gives them lots of new experiences. For a lot of our students, it’s their first opportunity to stay in a hotel.”

The Argyle FFA members just completed their annual strawberry sale. The club also participates in Operation Santa Claus, and hosts a “Build a Ginger Barn” contest in December.

Every other year, they travel to the Amish Country in Pennsylvania, where the students visit working farms and talk to the farmers, along with visiting a woodworking shop and a bake shop.

Michel noted that the most important skills students learn through FFA include public speaking, leadership skills, time management skills and team building.

While FFA is strong in Washington County, Granville’s FFA advisor Terry Wheeler pointed out that the organization is growing by leaps and bounds at the national level.

“FFA in the U.S. went up by 40,000 kids last year,” said Wheeler. He noted that the biggest states for FFA are Texas, California and Florida.

Surprisingly, he said, only about 20 percent of FFA kids live in rural areas. “The largest FFA clubs in New York are in Queens,” he commented.

Like other county FFA clubs, the Granville students attend the national FFA convention. Granville has a history of FFA members going on to state and higher offices. This year, said Wheeler, Seth Browe is running for district president.

“We produce a lot of leaders here,” he commented.

Some of the events that the Granville FFA is known for include the annual Battle of the Bands in December, Granville Community Service Day, and the Agricultural Expo the students organize at Tractor Supply in Granville.

“Enthusiasm is still high for the FFA in Granville,” he said. “The kids we have are very good.”

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