Future Farmers of America
What is FFA?
That question was posed to Free State High School students as they waited for classes to start Wednesday morning. Some shrugged their shoulders or looked to their friends for an answer while others replied, "Doesn't it have something to do with farming or agriculture?"
Most students knew the answer: Future Farmers of America.
But Free State's new FFA adviser is quick to point out that the group is about more than farming. It has evolved from a small club founded in the 1920s for farm boys to one boasting more than 500,000 members in the United States with an emphasis on leadership. In 1988, it changed its name to simply FFA.
"As the years went by and FFA grew in popularity, they started adding more leadership and real-world experiences and opportunities for students to build upon," Laura Priest said. "While we still have that backbone of agriculture, we don't necessarily focus on farming because agriculture is so much more than just a plow and a farmer out on his tractor. FFA is like the premier leadership organization."
The club offers various activities that help members hone leadership skills: community service projects, fundraising, competing in judging contests and attending conventions.
"They help you learn to work as a team and will prepare (you) for different situations later in your life," said Jennifer Livingood, a senior and president of the club. "They also teach you about how to serve your community - what's the best way to give back."
The club was doing just that - giving back - early Wednesday, in celebration of National FFA Week. They made omelets and served drinks to about 100 faculty and staff members to show appreciation for the teachers' work and support of FFA.
Carolyn Berry and Laurie McLane-Higginson, both art teachers, said they enjoyed the breakfast, especially because they didn't have to cook.
"It was really sweet of them," Berry said. "For them to get up early and organize this, it was a real grown-up thing to do."
McLane-Higginson said the club has grown and become more visible. Its size at least doubled this year, growing from about 10 to 25 members.
Members attribute much of the growth to Priest, who began teaching agriculture classes last fall after graduating from Kansas State University in December 2006.
"She's a lot more motivated and a lot more active," Livingood said. "She really wants not only the school but the community to know that there's an FFA at Free State. Most people don't think about it because we are more of an urban school."
Although a majority of the members grew up in the city, they constantly battle a "hick" image.
"Everybody's like, 'Oh my goodness, you're a farmer,' and that's one thing that we are fighting right now," said Livingood, who was raised in the city limits. "I don't own cows at all, but I can still serve as the president and do just as good of a job as people who do own cows."
She doesn't regret being a three-year member and hopes to help form an alumni group.
"It's been great. I've definitely made a bunch of new friends, and I've learned a lot."