Agriculture is part of our daily lives. It produces everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear.
This week, about 670,000 Future Farmers of America members across the country will share the story of agriculture as part of National FFA Week. That includes the six high school chapters here in Christian County.
Whether it is through service projects or community gatherings, National FFA Week is a time for FFA members to raise awareness about the role the National FFA Organization plays in the development of agriculture’s future leaders and the importance of agricultural education.
In Christian County, Ozark, Sparta, Chadwick, Billings, Clever and Spokane have FFA chapters connected to their high school agriculture education programs.
National FFA week begins Feb. 22 and ends Feb. 29. Tuesday, Feb. 25, is Give FFA Day, when friends and family of FFA members are encouraged to donate to their local chapter. Wednesday, Feb. 26, marks Ag Teacher Appreciation Day, a salute to vocational agriculture instructors in schools. Thursday, Feb. 27, is Alumni Day, when FFA members are encouraged to reach out to alumni who inspire them and thank them for the examples they set. Feb. 28, Friday, is National Wear Blue Day, when members of FFA and anyone who supports FFA is encouraged to wear blue to show pride for the organization.
The National FFA Scholarship Program provides more than 120 different scholarships to support students who are pursuing some sort of agriculture degree once they finish high school. The is more than $2.7 million in scholarship money directly available to those who are selected for National FFA scholarships. In 2018, there were 1,842 students across the nation who funded their college educations through FFA involvement.
Ozark is home to an agriculture education program that has its own farm on Old Prospect Road. Every fall, the FFA chapter hosts a festival for elementary school students at the farm.
FFA Advisor Jeremy Sisco said the annual event is a good partnership, giving FFA members valuable leadership experience while teaching younger students about agriculture.
“We pride ourselves in being a student-led organization. The students take ownership of the event and plan it — contact the teachers and coordinate the dates. I think it teaches them a lot of responsibility,” Sisco said. “This also allows us to highlight our school farm, which we are lucky to have.”
With more than 300 members, the Ozark FFA chapter is one of the largest in Missouri. Its horse judging team received a silver rating at the 2019 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. The horse judging team won the 2019 state championship, placing first out of 47 teams.
Students from across Christian County traveled to Indiana for the event, which welcomed more than 68,000 people.
The dairy cattle evaluation team from Billings earned a gold rating at the national contest. Billings’ Bailey Groves is a reigning grand champion and reserve supreme champion at the Missouri Sate Fair.
At the state level, Chadwick’s Lauren Gilbert won the Area 12 Star in Agribusiness designation. She is also the reigning Missouri Beef Queen, a character-based title awarded to a woman who advocates for the beef industry. She won the award at the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Convention, then went on to prove herself by winning the reserve grand championship in Angus bulls at the Missouri State Fair.
“It’s crucial that people in my generation be active and do that,” Gilbert said of advocating for beef producers, being quoted in Ozark’s Farm and Neighbor. “If you look at the numbers, the average age of farmers is increasing, and they can’t always connect with this younger generation about this lifestyle. I think it’s very important that people my age advocate for the lifestyle we all love because if we aren’t careful and proactive, it might not be there.”