This article was originally published in the 2015-16 Clay County Outdoors magazine by the Henrietta and Clay County Chamber of Commerce. PIERCE has received permission to republish this content in order to help advance the mission of the Texas FFA, encourage students to consider joining the FFA and educate our audience about how much the FFA has changed over the years.
Junior and senior Henrietta high school students file into Shane Crafton’s floral design period at 1:08 on a Tuesday afternoon. Crafton begins class and reminds students of the upcoming holidays including Valentine’s Day and one of Henrietta’s largest fundraisers, the greenhouse plant sale. Floral design is one of 30 possible classes offered by the FFA.
In Clay County, FFA chapters consist of Bellevue, Henrietta, Petrolia and Midway FFA. These four chapters embody the FFA vision to develop “students whose lives are impacted by FFA and … achieve academic and personal growth, strengthen American agriculture and provide leadership to build healthy local communities, a strong nation and a sustainable world.”
“The FFA is a great organization because it is so diversified,” says Mike Jackson, Bellevue’s FFA sponsor.
Thirty years ago, FFA curriculum included four cookie cutter classes (Ag I, II, III, IV). Today, FFA is a hub for extra curricular education and provides dozens of out of class opportunities for students to “apply practical classroom knowledge to real world experiences through local, state and national competitions,” says the Texas FFA Association.
“FFA offers something for a lot of different people,” says Josh Cox, Petrola’s FFA sponsor. “It’s not just showing animals. We offer agriculture mechanics, judging teams, wildlife management, floral, etc.” Some classes you might not expect to find in an FFA curriculum include graphic design and videography, record keeping, public speaking, welding and so on.
Some might ask, ‘what does public speaking have to do with agriculture’? FFA’s vision is further reaching than developing advanced mechanical skills or showing animals. They believe the future of the organization is bright and it starts with a well-rounded, excellent curriculum facilitated by the nation’s most passionate educators who develop young leaders.
“Even if students don’t want a future in Ag, it’s a great leadership organization,” says Jackson. The mission of FFA is to make “a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
Agriculture education is simply the tool used to develop student leaders. One Henrietta student, Chance Cerda, recently graduated from Tarleton State University and finished his college career as the student body president. He shares, “Serving as student body president for a university with over 11,000 students would have been nearly impossible without the leadership training I received during my time in the Henrietta FFA. Being able to communicate clearly, follow through on commitments and lead others are all skills that I learned as a direct result of my involvement in the organization.”
As student leaders, FFA members not only have a duty to develop personally but also build a team to compete at the local, state, regional and national level. Moreover, team building and leadership development is one reason 610,240 student members, grades seven through 12, decide to join FFA.
“I wanted to take advantage of being in a leadership position on the officer team and participate in career and leadership development events such as livestock judging and skills team assessment,” says Taylor Powell, former Henrietta FFA officer. “The overall opportunity to participate in hands-on outdoor activities proved to be my most valuable mode of education.”
This hands-on approach to learning is facilitated by advisors like, Shane Crafton, of the Henrietta chapter. Crafton has an incredible track record for student scholarship success. Henrietta’s cumulative scholarship money nearly doubled from 2013 – 14. The chapter boosted $65,000 total dollars raised for scholarships in 2013 and $120,000 in 2015. Some students like, Taylor Powell, find more success investing their time in FFA than through sports scholarships.
“FFA provided numerous substantial scholarship opportunities which very fortunately alleviated my college expenses,” says Powell, a graduate of Texas Tech University and master’s student at Texas A&M’s College of veterinary medicine. “Undoubtedly the background I gained in FFA was the driving factor for my choice of studies and ultimately my career decision.”
To Powell, “FFA means people who care about you and your interest to better the world whether that be through agriculture related activities or leadership development. FFA opened countless doors for me personally and embedded a passion in my life; the passion for livestock, agriculture, the people involved, and their lifestyle.”
Crafton is a master at identifying student passion and applying their zeal within a team structure. He believes success starts with both student and team development. “It’s not rocket science,” says Crafton. “It’s about building a team.” In addition, the team is so well trained that they become a self-propelled group and source of accountably.
“I try to get them to a point where they are encouraging each other,” Crafton explains. These teams compete to win and in Henrietta, many of Crafton’s teams win because they are so well-trained; however when they lose, they are equipped to pick each other up and try again. “Everyone has a bad day,” Crafton explains, “You need to pick them up and give a push and make the process positive.”
Both FFA and John Maxwell, today’s authority on leadership who has sold over 20 million books worldwide since 2012, believe “leadership is influence.” FFA manual describes an influential student leader as a person of action, relationships, vision, character, purpose, and continually self improves. This person picks up his or her friends even after a major loss and has relentless determination to finish the project to the very end.
Relentless determination is required no matter the kind of project students are working on. “It takes hard work by everyone involved by students, parents and advisors,” says Jackson. “It can take as few as 80 hours or as much as 200-300 hours” to build projects like radius mowers or trailers or a machine that converted round hay bales to square bales. Imagine spending 300 hours on a project and coming away with second place. The FFA community knows the true prize is the found in the journey of personal development, gaining team leadership skills and applying the 300 hours of work to a project the student will never forget. However, when students win, and win big, the whole community cheers.
“The stand goes nuts when a student wins the champion drive,” says Michael Cowley, Petrolia FFA officer and 2006 Lone Star degree recipient. “The moment is extra special because we all know they’ve worked so hard.”
Those celebratory moments are the culmination of hundreds of hours of joint labor among students, teams, advisors and parents. It takes the community to enrich and celebrate the student.
“The community needs agriculture to support their families,” Cowley continues. “Without the support of the families, the FFA would be nothing.”
“We have four FFA chapters that are great and well rounded,” says Jackson. “I think it’s contributed to the Ag teachers and living in a county like Clay where everyone is hard working and takes pride in where they live.” The pride in our agricultural heritage also is reflected in the demographics of our community.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Clay County has three main trades: education (24.6%), retail (12.4%) and agriculture (10.6%). Combined, our community includes 35.2% of the population involved in teaching and agriculture whereas only 3.1% of the total Texas population is involved in agriculture.
Even those who aren’t involved in agriculture come out to support FFA. “We want to say thank you for your continued support,” says Crafton. “You support the greenhouse even though our lawns can’t be watered.” Moreover, FFA’s service learning activities benefit the community through keeping up with projects like Midway’s “well house, maintenance and repair, rails for parking and new flag pole,” says Donnie Lopp, Midway’s FFA advisor. “The school is the town and we appreciate your efforts to support the kids and families.”
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, FFA advisors have the opportunity to invest in the future of our nation but transforming students. “I’m proud of the kids who have graduated and become successful and productive citizens. It takes the whole community.” Lopp adds, “Arom white collar to blue collar – I try to get them to work.”
Students like Cerda, Powell and Cowley all experienced transformational change through FFA. “Clay County FFA will always be near and dear to my heart for many reasons,” says Cerda. “Though a small town community … many of these world changes start as Clay County FFA members.”
“I have received continued support from all of those involved back home. They ultimately helped me get to where I am today but stimulating, encouraging, and helping me fulfill my goals,” says Powell. “The influence I have received from the FFA has developed my leadership abilities as well and allowed me to serve others. I hope that through my educational journey I can find a way to give back to those who so willingly and unselfishly gave to me.”
“FFA means a lot to me,” says Cowley. “I want it to keep growing. We need to have kids who learn how to feed the country. They are the future.”
The future of FFA is bright. “There will always be a demand,” says Jackson. “It’s estimated there will be 9 billion people on the earth by 2050 – we’ve got to feed all those people.”
FFA is a more than a class period or curriculum; it’s a diversified culture offering unlimited opportunities for the betterment of student growth, leadership and community involvement. This culture is well established in the Clay County community and we are grateful for the men and women who invest in our student leaders daily. In addition, the students who invest in the FFA are never the same and become motivated adults to reach high goals and think outside themselves. What an incredible legacy of transformational excellence. May be all strive to live out FFA’s motto: “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”
FFA TEACHER SPOTLIGHT
Crafton currently serves as the secretary treasurer of the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas (VATAT). By 2017, Crafton will be the president of the VATAT. The association “informs agriculture teachers about the latest agricultural education practices, encourages higher standards of teaching agriculture and provides agriculture education a unified voice in the state legislature.” The VATAT has experienced monumental growth in the last five years since Crafton became a board member. Their membership roster has grown from just over 1,000 to current levels of over 1,680 members in five years.