FFA. It’s not just for farmers anymore.
“There’s a rather corny saying that FFA members have: ‘It’s not all cows, sows and plows,’” said Cullen Reeves, Texas FFA vice president. “FAA is so much more. It is a community of leaders who value agriculture and being exceptional students. It was my defining high school experience. They want to make a difference.”
FFA members are currently making a difference in great numbers at the junior livestock show, the Fort Worth Stock Show’s closing competition, which will conclude with Saturday’s Sale of Champions, where young exhibitors often see their blue ribbon-winning stock sell for several hundred times market value.
All of the more than 11,000 exhibitors entered in the junior show are members of FFA or 4-H.
“We would like to have one supervisor [per school or county] certifying that these animals are in that youngster’s possession. We want to be certain the young person entering and showing that animal is the owner,” said Stefan Marchman, livestock show manager at the Stock Show. “We want everybody in the state of Texas to all be doing it exactly the same way.”
So the FFA and 4-H are as intertwined with the Stock Show as those organizations are with the lives of the exhibitors.
“We have enough support through our school system that we are able to pay an affiliation fee. That means everybody who walks into our classroom is an FFA member,” said Jim Allsup, an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Decatur High School.
Like Reeves, Allsup says FFA is concerned with more than raising crops and fitting steers.
“The FFA is all about developing leadership skills through agriculture,” said Allsup, who has been teaching agriculture for 25 years. “It gives these kids all kinds of opportunities to grow and achieve.”
Allsup and Reeves said that, in addition to the traditional activities like showing livestock at the Stock Show, FFA and 4-H members can become involved in a wide range of agriculture-related projects and activities that include ag mechanics, horticulture, landscaping, public speaking and parliamentary procedure, to name a few. And in almost all of those areas, members have the opportunity to compete for awards and scholarships.
“For example, one of the courses I teach is floral design,” said Allsup, 47, who is a former national FFA official. “Only about 20 percent of our students show livestock.”
Most people think of FFA as the Future Farmers of America. But Reeves said the name was changed in 1989 to the National FFA Organization. It has 610,240 members in grades seven through 12 who are members of one of the organization’s 7,665 chapters, according to its website. Reeves says there are 106,000 FFA members in Texas.
The gender distribution of that membership is balanced.
“I think in the Texas FFA, we are 52 percent female and 47 percent male,” said Reeves of Lubbock, who showed heifers as an FFA member and who is one of the relatively few members who stayed with FFA after high school in order to run for election to a state position.
“FFA really changes peoples’ lives, and they don’t even see it because it is such a natural part of who you are,” said Reeves, 18, who is a freshman at Texas A&M University where he is studying agricultural systems management. “And it never really goes away. It is always going to be a part of you.”
“It is the reason I became an ag teacher,” Allsup said.
So the learning, scholarships and shared passion for agriculture are major parts of why FFA is so important to the young people competing at the Stock Show.
But don’t discount the jacket.
“They’re almost sacred,” says Reeves with a laugh, referring to the iconic blue corduroy jackets worn by FFA members. “I had one that I wore so much that it got to be kind of a faded purple. As long as you have that blue corduroy jacket that everybody knows so well, you are a member of the family.”