Today marks the final day of National FFA week, observed throughout Indiana and in Bartholomew County by the FFA chapters in Hope and Columbus, a joint chapter representing both North and East high schools.
Once known as Future Farmers of America, the group officially changed its name in the later part of the 1990s to FFA. This was done as the face of agriculture and the status of the organization as a whole was changing. Local events this week included annual tractor drives to school in Columbus, a pancake breakfast at Hauser and a basketball game between the two chapters, also at Hauser.
The organization was formed in 1928, a time when agriculture and farming were thought of as a hog-and-cow and corn-, wheat-and-bean occupation, practiced on family farms of 100 to 200 acres. Students with farm backgrounds were given the opportunity to study their chosen lifestyle with a study plan developed by land grant colleges. In Indiana, that was Purdue University.
An originator of the FFA movement in the early days was a local personality working in the Department of Education, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. That person, “Pop” Linke, has descendants living in the eastern part of Clay Township in Bartholomew County.
The organization took shape in Kansas City, Missouri, in the fall of 1928 with a handful of interested schoolboys and a few educators of agriculture. The movement advanced into Indiana by the fall of 1929 with local educator J. R. Rees, who too has descendants living in Bartholomew County. Rees taught vocational agriculture at Columbus High School. Membership was nominal in early days but it gained numbers rather quickly as time went on.
An annual convention has been conducted each year since its inception at Purdue University, where state contest winners are announced and awarded, and a new set of state officers are elected. Today, there are more than 10,000 FFA members in Indiana and more than 140 in Bartholomew County. Now serving as instructor and adviser at Hauser is Aleesa Dickerson, while her counterpart in Columbus is Allison Korb.
Changes in FFA began in the early 1960s, when girls were admitted as members. Today, females make up 53 percent of the total membership.
Hog and corn producers no longer dominate chapters, as only one in 10 students in vocational agriculture is considered a dirt farmer. The other nine include occupations such as scientists studying the food and dietary requirements of today’s food chain; bankers working in agricultural finance: sales of farm products and finished offerings; governmental inspectors and educators; engineers developing machines that produce, haul and prepare the final product that arrives on our tables; marketing of raw farm products; and farm-food legal studies. The face of agriculture has changed and vocational educators today have many more areas to teach, train and inspire. An instructor has an increasing responsibility to prepare these young people for the anticipated requirement of feeding the world.
A group of former FFA members have organized a local chapter of FFA Alumni and are seeking others to join them. The purpose is to enthuse local students, show them the advantages of being an FFA member, assist local instructors and help raise funds to help establish scholarships, furnish more award money, assist in arranging supervised projects for incoming students and to help publicize endeavors of our county FFA opportunities. The local president of the newly formed Bartholomew County FFA Alumni is Cory Arnholt, who can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gene Wint of Elizabethtown was a member of the Columbus High School Future Farmers of America chapter from 1948 to 1952. He was the first Columbus student elected to a state FFA office, serving as state FFA reporter in 1953. He can be reached at email@example.com