Now among the largest youth organizations in the United States, with 700,000 members in 8,630 chapters throughout all 50 states, FFA is among the largest of the career and technical student organizations in U.S. schools.
Yet FFA long ago expanded its curriculum beyond agriculture. Formerly known as Future Farmers of America, it organized in 1928. In 1988 it changed its name to the National FFA Organization to recognize the institution embraced a bigger tent, including interest in food, fiber, and natural-resource industries encompassing science, business and technology.
Leonela Gonzalez, an 11th grade Holtville High School student, is among the vice presidents of her section (Imperial County) and explained the impact the organization has had during her three years as a participant.
“I personally got into FFA thinking it was all about animals,” admitted Leonela. “But I took up public speaking and I got involved with extemporaneous speaking. I got a third place for our section on Feb. 6 at Palo Verde High School and now I’m moving on to the regional contests.”
The regional contests take place Mar. 28 at Cal Poly, Pomona, where Leonela will face nine others in hopes of becoming the regional vice president. The event includes a field day of contests in vegetable crops in which students must correctly identify vegetables, crop disease, transplants, insects and seeds.
If Leonela prevails there–only first, second and third places advance–she will move up to the state competition April 23-26 at the Anaheim Convention Center. One of her passionate topics is defending the rights of migrant laborers to cross the Mexican border legally so they can work the three-month season, return home and return for the next season.
“But I also speak on personal experience such as applying for regional vice president that has taught me to step out from my comfort zone,” said Leonela. “Speaking on this topic allows me to reach out to my age group and inform them to develop leadership skills and set goals.”
Leonela said she has thoughts of a career as a physical therapist or possibly an agricultural teacher.
“I feel excited for the chance to overcome challenges,” she said. “If I end up as an ag teacher, I want to return to Imperial Valley because it’s important to give back to our community.”
Lindsay Cox, one of Leonela’s agricultural teachers, explained the FFA has more than $2 million in scholarships (usually $1,500 to $3,000 each) between state chapters and the national organization for students.
“Some of our students have been pretty successful,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to reach out beyond Imperial County.”
Training opportunities are not just for the students. From June 25-28 the California Teachers Association Conference is at the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. It is always a good professional development opportunity because teachers get hands-on instruction, explained Cox.
It will stress all aspects of agriculture including mechanics, such as shed building from start to finish to suit any ag purpose, aquaculture and aquaponics.
“We’ll have a nice banquet where we recognize the program of the year and teacher of the year.” said Cox. “It’s a good opportunity to network since we can learn a lot from other teachers.”
A recent achievement
for the Holtville High FFA program was the opening of the new barn on Viking
Road that began housing animals in October 2019
in the 100 foot by 80 foot structure. It was built with a grant from the Holtville Agricultural Advisory Committee approved from five years ago. The pens in the barn were built from a Career Technical Education Incentive grant.
“We can now house more animals and we’ll have easier access to water and electrical needs,” said Cox. “Our pasture system is nearly finished on the parcels of both sides of the barn. It allows students to breed animals in the pasture and do the lambing and kidding (birthing and weaning) in a real-life situation. We’re really blessed to have this kind of community support.”
This story is featured in the March 5, 2020 e-Edition.