JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: What is the future for farmers?
Here is a trivia question for you. What youth organization is known for its blue corduroy jacket? If you said Future Farmers of America or the National Future Farmers of America Organization, you can be first to drive the tractor or sheer the sheep.
Here is a trivia question for you. What youth organization is known for its blue corduroy jacket? If you said Future Farmers of America or the National Future Farmers of America Organization, you can be first to drive the tractor or sheer the sheep. The blue jacket became the official dress of FFA in 1933.
At one time, virtually every school in Minnesota had an FFA chapter. Because there were so many small Minnesota farms and the livelihood of many Minnesotans was based on a farm income, it was only natural that schools catered to this large rural segment. Because most of those male students in FFA classes would inherit their parent's farm, why not offer classes in high school that would prepare them for a career in agriculture?
FFA was first organized in Kansas City in 1928. It now has about 670,000 members in all states, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Boys and girls, ages 12-21, now make up the membership in 8,630 chapters. Girls, by the way, were first admitted in 1969. Minnesota has 10,600 members taught by 253 instructors.
My small school in southern Minnesota had an FFA chapter and it still does today. I don't recall any city kids enrolling in FFA but all of the rural kids did, which was about half of the student population in high school.
As I sat in my boring algebra class, I often thought about the guys who took FFA. How cool it was for them to learn about planting, and animal husbandry and driving a tractor and harvesting. Now that was really practical stuff. I had a hard time relating algebra and chemistry to anything. I wanted to drive a tractor and feed the hogs.
Agriculture is big business today both here and abroad. It is the second-largest industry in Minnesota. It's so big I can't even comprehend what farmers need to know to run a big farm. Everything is huge-the amount of land used for crops, the number of milk cows in dairy farms, the size of the tractors and the cost of farming. The small rural farms are pretty much gone, where farmers raised a little of everything and subsisted on what they could raise. Big or small, the success of the farm was and is still dependent on the hard work by every member of the farm family.
Today young people going into farming almost need a Ph.D. in agriculture. They have to know about agriscience, biotechnology, agri-mechanics, horticulture, animal science and more. No wonder there is a shortage of FFA teachers. Who's this smart?
I have mentioned to my wife on more than one occasion that sometimes I wish I could have been a farmer. I think that had my father not been raised in town, he would also have enjoyed farming. Both of his grandfathers were farmers.
As a banker he dealt with farmers who needed loans and he would make it a practice to visit the farms to see how they were maintained. He would often remark how clean a field looked as we drove by and how neat and orderly a farm appeared. If he felt the farmer took care of the land, and was trustworthy, a handshake was all that was needed to get a loan.
As a city boy I had no experience on a farm. Although when going to college and needing a few extra dollars, I was paid $5 an hour for walking the beans and pulling out button weeds. I was paid the same amount for loading square bales of hay on the hay wagon. That was hard work, but I felt good afterward, which is how hard work makes you feel when you complete the task.
Although most farmers today use the round bales, I will on occasion drive by a farmer loading the square bales. When I see this, I'm tempted to get out of my car, go up to the farmer and say, "I will give you $20 if I can help load the bales." Yes, farm labor is work-it's good for the soul. No wonder farmers are so religious.
It's too bad FFA is not made available in every high school today. Lots of kids, who are not farmers and may not even intend to farm, would benefit from the hands in the soil type of curriculum. Plus, what better way is there to teach environmental science? There's one other thing, I would bet 100 percent of the students enrolled in FFA graduate from high school.
Daniel Webster said, "When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization." If I might add, without them we couldn't exist. Let's give a salute to those young men and women in the blue corduroy jackets. You truly are our future.
Riddle: What do you call a hotdog that speaks his mind? (A frank-ferter.) Let's be frank about it. The future of our country will depend largely on the future of farming.
100 percent graduation rate
A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. These tips will increase the likelihood that students will stay in school.
1. One way to get kids interested in whatever you are teaching is through music.
2. When you begin the class with something the kids find interesting, you are more likely to keep them interested. Teaching a class is kind of like the opening lines of a good book.
3. Too often kids can't keep up because teachers speed ahead. This is why testing kids every day is good teaching. You need to know what they know before moving forward.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.