I first learned about the Future Farmers of America (FFA) earlier this year when I began working with Patrick Faulkner, who runs the FFA program at Longview High School. Since 2012, Longview has been our partner in hosting a Regional Outreach Training Center for Growing Power, one of the most successful urban farms in America. This summer my interns and I had the opportunity to work with Patrick at the school’s organic garden and learn about how the FFA teaches leadership skills and encourages young people to pursue a career in agriculture. When I got an invitation to attend this year’s Future Farmers of America Convention in Louisville, KY, I immediately said yes. The conference was an opportunity to interact with high schoolers from across the U.S. who might one day become the farmers that this country so desperately needs.
The convention was attended by over 60,000 students, agriculture educators, faculty, parents, and exhibitors and really gave me great insight into agriculture education in America. My team from the Greenhorns interviewed over 100 students about their future careers and experiences in the FFA. We also had a chance to learn about the FFA from the perspective of the teachers. I met so many incredible people from across the country, but over the two days I spent there, the interactions that stayed with me the most were those with folks that were from North Carolina or were involved in efforts to address food insecurity and hunger in America.
The FFA Hunger Heroes!
I was thrilled to discover that the National FFA has its own hunger relief platform called “Feeding Our World - Starting At Home” that they developed in 2010. I met with the program’s director, Michelle Sullivan, who was kind enough to explain how the platform actually makes an impact.
Students go through three steps in the program. The first is “See It,” where students are encouraged to observe and understand the issues and effects of domestic and global food insecurity. The second is “Solve It,” where students then take action to support the human right to safe, affordable, abundant and nutritious food as a means of reducing hunger at home and abroad, starting with a look at the U.S. In this step, they organize hunger relief efforts that give FFA members opportunities to apply what they have learned to fight hunger and promote food security for all. The third and final step is “Share It,” where they are in a position to advocate for the hungry and tell the positive story of FFA and agriculture as important pieces in the solution to food insecurity.
The program offers “Food for All” grants to chapters that develop exceptional service learning projects that address hunger. It is also hosting an “FFA Hunger Heroes Challenge” which is asking students from across the country to work together to donate 2.5 million meals to those in need by the 2015 National FFA Convention.
As someone who works for a hunger relief organization, it was so exciting to hear that young people across America are standing with the Food Shuttle in our fight against hunger. Not only that, but local FFA chapters are hard at work as well. This year the Wakefield FFA chapter hosted an advocacy workshop to recruit people to participate in our “Plant A Row For The Hungry” program and twenty community members ended up donating over 1,200 pounds of produce to the Food Shuttle! Their chapter did such a good job that their accomplishment was featured at the “Feeding Our World - Starting At Home” exhibit at the convention. Great job Wakefield!
Pasture Fed Beef and Agriculture Education in Johnston County, NC
I had the pleasure of meeting N.C. State grad Amy Robinette who owns Harris-Robinette Beef with her husband, Patrick in Johnston County, NC. Amy is not only a farmer and business woman but she is also the president of NC Agri-Women, a coalition of women in agriculture that offers a united voice for advocating agriculture through education, networking and communication opportunities. It was exciting to meet a fellow North Carolina gal in Kentucky, especially one who is working so hard to provide consumers with affordable, environmentally sound, high quality and nutritious beef.
The Robinette family raises their cattle on an exclusively grass-fed based system that is free of the pesticides and hormones that can often be found in beef from feed lot operations. They’ve been in business for fourteen years and are truly pioneers in their field. In 2013 Amy and Patrick launched Micro Summit Processors Inc, a USDA inspected slaughter and processing facility specializing in cattle, lambs, and goats. By raising their own cattle, and owning the processing facility and distribution company that bring their grass fed meat to your plate, Amy and Patrick are able to insure that they are delivering a humane and high quality product to market.
Education is also very important to the Robinettes. The couple is very involved in the FFA, and their teenage daughter is a member. Patrick was a part of the FFA in high school and college. He is now an FFA alum who has worked for a number of years as an agriculture educator in his community. Both Patrick and Amy value the leadership skills that are taught to students through the program and appreciate how the FFA helps students think for themselves. They take every opportunity to use their business as a hands on classroom for local FFA chapters and national FFA officers who are able to see how a grass fed cattle operation runs from start to finish.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend this year’s FFA convention. I met so many young people who are incredibly intelligent, driven, and ready to change the face of agriculture in this country. They give me so much hope! I was also able to connect with inspiring farmers from my own community who are making a real difference and I learned about a number of hunger relief programs that I have already brought back to Longview High School and I hope to discuss with other nearby FFA chapters.
By Katie Murray, IFFS Urban Agriculture Training Programs Coordinator. Contact: Katie@FoodShuttle.org