Monday, May 8, 2017

Agriculture and Commerce: Training Future Tennessee Farmers

By Heather Adkins

Springtime is finally upon Tennessee and the flowers are in bloom. While some Tennesseans may hide away from the newly-released allergens, others are preparing their gardens. Before you head to the local store for a fresh supply of seedlings, check out your local high schools. Many Tennessee high schools have Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs. The FFA offers students instruction in vocational agriculture and training in farmer citizenship. Some FFA chapters host spring fundraisers selling student-grown flowers, vegetables and herbs to the community.

Commissioner J. Warf, Department of Education (left), during presentation of a poster for National Future Farmers Week

The FFA organized nationally in November 1928, during a time when boys were losing interest in farming as a profession. This movement away from farming professions deeply impacted states like Tennessee, with its economy largely dependent on agriculture. Walter S. Newman, the Virginia state supervisor of agricultural education, had proposed in 1925 forming an organization for farm boys that offered “a greater opportunity for self-expression and for the development of leadership. In this way they will develop confidence in their own ability and pride in the fact that they are farm boys.”

A constitution and bylaws were drafted, and the Future Farmers of Virginia was formed in 1926. By 1928, the idea of future farmers programs gained national traction. At the American Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City, Missouri, 33 young students from 18 states gathered that year to form the national FFA. In 1950, Congress granted the FFA a federal charter, making it an integral part of public agricultural instruction under the National Vocation Education Acts.

Governor Browning proclaims Future Farmers of America Week in Tennessee, 1952

The Future Farmers of Tennessee was organized in September 1927, almost a year before the national FFA. The first state convention was held in Nashville on April 20, 1928. At the time, there were only 1,000 members in 41 local chapters across the state. Today, the Tennessee FFA Association consists of more than 14,000 members and 220 chapters. The local chapters uphold the mission of both state and national levels, including leadership and character development, sportsmanship, cooperation, service, thrift, scholarship, improved agriculture, organized recreation, citizenship and patriotism.

In 1935, a national agriculture organization for African-American boys called the New Farmers of America (NFA) formed in Tuskegee, Alabama, although the group had its beginnings in Virginia. The NFA and FFA had many common beliefs and similar missions. These similarities, along with the state and local desegregation of schools, prompted the consolidation the two groups under FFA name in 1965.

“More Charity When Needed,” The Tennessee Future Farmer, Feb. 1947, RG 92

In 1930, the FFA national convention delegates voted to deny membership to girls. In Tennessee, girls were encouraged to join the Future Homemakers of America (FHA), which aimed to help with forging family bonds, career preparation and participation in the community. This co-curricular organization continues today as the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. Both the FFA and the FHA were featured in the monthly magazine The Tennessee Future Farmers. It wasn’t until 1969 that girls gained full FFA membership privileges, recognized for the integral role women have played on farms and in agriculture. Today, females represent more than 45 percent of membership and about half of all state leadership positions.

[P. Warner Frazier to Sadie Warner Frazier discussing a Florida FFA Forestry Camp, Sadie Warner Frazier Papers

From the local level up to the FFA national convention, students are encouraged to participate in agricultural activities that not only expand and test their knowledge, but help spread that knowledge in their communities. FFA events host various competitions in different fields to evaluate students’ skills and knowledge of agriscience. Summer camps and special skills camps are arranged for students to attend (Tennessee’s FFA camp is now open for registration). Outstanding members are awarded for their work. Applied learning is emphasized through classroom education and supervised hands-on agricultural experiences. FFA programs help members develop public speaking skills, conduct and participate in meetings, manage finances, strengthen problem-solving abilities and assume civic responsibility.

Future farmers judge a class of corn at the West Tennessee Crop Judging contest in Humboldt. Cover of The Tennessee Future Farmer, Feb. 1947, RG 92

You can support local FFA chapters by attending FFA competitions and activities, supporting fundraisers and making donations. If you don't know if your community has an active chapter, you can find out here: You can also support FFA by talking to the Tennessee FFA Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to help support students seeking personal development and careers in agricultural fields. The foundation publishes a newsletter, which reports on financial updates, fundraising opportunities and FFA scholarships:

Tennessee state motto: Agriculture and Commerce

FFA motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve

Learn more about Future Farmers of America:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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