Across the Table: If the jacket fits–an FFA legacy

Like all parents, Lisa and I want our kids to get an exceptional education. To that end, we’re dressing them in blue corduroy.

You probably recognize the iconic jacket that is the official dress of the FFA. You may not know it identifies someone whose education is based on cutting edge concepts. Concepts such as the best way to learn something is to actually do it. That science, technology, engineering and math skills are important and that character is as important as knowledge. Interestingly, these newly popular principles have been the agricultural education model since 1928.

Meeting with FFA members is a great part of my job.

Future Farmers of America officially became FFA in 1988, a name change to reflect emerging diversity in members’ interests. FFA evolved to prepare not only future farmers, but future scientists, engineers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and the occasional farm organization executive.

“Traditionally you thought of students with market hogs or 10 acres of corn, but today we see more students taking research projects that are focused on bioscience,” said friend Leah Amstutz. Leah and I grew up in Fairfield County; she now works in Career Technical Education at the Ohio Department of Education. And, the student base is changing. “We have about 3 percent of our members coming from urban areas and nearly 12 percent from suburban areas,” Leah told me.

That’s helping FFA grow. “About five years ago, Ohio had around 23,000 in agricultural education; today we’re closer to 28,000,” she said. She credits the growth in diversity and numbers to the state “making work force development a priority and aligning that with career technical education.”

Strong adult leadership is another fundamental. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Chuck Miller, my teacher and adviser. Chuck helped me learn to think critically, to work hard and to be a good citizen. He provided opportunities to grow personally and develop leadership skills. I went on to earn my State Farmer degree, my American Farmer degree and serve as chapter president, all thanks in part to a teacher who, to this day, remains one of the most influential people in my life.

My experiences aren’t unique. Thousands of Farm Bureau members know first-hand the value of agricultural education, which is why our organization supports FFA at all levels. County Farm Bureaus donate to local chapters and provide scholarships. Ohio Farm Bureau hosts FFA members at the Statehouse to learn about the political process, and we support FFA’s Camp Muskingum. I’m guessing our members lead in per capita fruit buying (FFA’s annual statewide fundraiser). I’d encourage you to pitch in, too. Leah said FFA’s success “isn’t just one person; it’s a community, grassroots effort.”

It’s also a family thing. My brother Scott is the teacher and adviser at Amanda-Clearcreek High School, where we went to school and where my daughter Sydney just joined the chapter. She’s the 4th generation of Sharps who will proudly embrace the FFA motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.

Famous FFA Alumni

  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Eagles founding member Don Henley
  • Pro football and baseball star Bo Jackson
  • Pop music star Taylor Swift

Feature image: Twenty-seven years later, my FFA jacket still fits! I had to roll up the sleeves for daughter Sydney until her new jacket arrives.