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Future Farmers Of America: Teaching More Than Just A Love Of The Land

More than just an impressive site, Vermont farm equipment tells the story of the needs and costs associated with being a farmer in Addison County and across the nation.
photo provided
More than just an impressive site, Vermont farm equipment tells the story of the needs and costs associated with being a farmer in Addison County and across the nation.
Vermont FFA members at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, IN in October 2012.
photo provided
Vermont FFA members at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, IN in October 2012.
During the 2012 Big E parade Abbie Stearns, Jenna Rao, Mikayla VanderWey pause to enjoy the moment.
photo provided
During the 2012 Big E parade Abbie Stearns, Jenna Rao, Mikayla VanderWey pause to enjoy the moment.
The VUHS 2012 Parliamentary Team which placed bronze at the nationbal level: Alex Korth, Alex Woods, Mikayla VanderWey, Abbie Sterns, Dan Hawkins, Chase Atkins.
photo provided
The VUHS 2012 Parliamentary Team which placed bronze at the nationbal level: Alex Korth, Alex Woods, Mikayla VanderWey, Abbie Sterns, Dan Hawkins, Chase Atkins.
Middlebury FFA students (l to r)  Jordan Hubbell and Samantha Little hand out tomato plants they grew in the Hannaford Career Center greenhouse to the crowd at the Middlebury Memorial Day Parade.
photo by photo provided by Middlebury FFA
Middlebury FFA students (l to r)  Jordan Hubbell and Samantha Little hand out tomato plants they grew in the Hannaford Career Center greenhouse to the crowd at the Middlebury Memorial Day Parade.

Tuesday February 19, 2013

By Cookie Steponaitis

The postcards of the quintessential Vermont farm with the red barn have been seen around the world and a lot of people have the misconceived notion of an idyllic and low key lifestyle of a farm family with a few head of cows, a tractor and a love of the outdoors. Vermont farm families in reality are more than just eternally linked to the land. They are hardworking, scientists, economists, entrepreneurs, inventors and have come of age at a time when the landscape of Vermont and the science of farming is changing more rapidly than at any point in American history. Farmers today have to learn more, work harder and balance more information and planning than their historic counterparts. In the midst of all of this change programs like the Future Farmers of America (FFA) at local high schools and vocational ce9ers serve as a vital link between the knowledge needed, the skills required and the age old love of the land, animals and outdoors.

The Vergennes Union High School FFA has had a busy year in programs, competitions and planning for the upcoming spring and summer months. At the helm is Bill VanDeWeert who is in his fourth year as an agricultural science teacher at VUHS. Bill comes from a farming background and was also a member of the FFA when he was a student. “FFA was an exciting organization when I was an active member in high school and I think the same is true today,” shared Bill VanDeWeert. “FFA is a unique youth organization because it seeks to combine three valuable components. First, FFA members learn agricultural skills and knowledge through classes and competitions. Second, members also participate by taking on leadership roles and working as a team in the student run chapter. Finally, members choose their own individual agricultural experiences usually working at a job, operating a business, volunteering, job shadowing or a combination of these. This model for agricultural involvement is time tested and has worked in Vergennes and across the country for years. Agriculture is always changing. This model is flexible to meet the new needs. Agricultural classes and competitions can change, students choose what they want to do for their agricultural experiences and the activities of the chapter reflect the goals of the members.”

The VUHS FFA chapter hosted the annual Dairy Day/Tractor Day in June 2012 where the FFA members teach elementary students about dairy farming and tractors.  Watching the faces of literally hundreds of students who are bused to the high school for the event it is little wonder why Vermonters hold so strongly to their agricultural roots. Not only were the faces of the young students illuminated but they were engaged and involved in asking questions relating to the care and feeding of animals, medicine, science and use of all the farm equipment present.

Teams train throughout the year for competitions and state and national conventions and 2012 was no exception.  At the Vermont FFA Convention held May 2012 the Parliamentary Procedure Team consisting of Adam Delisle, Ethan Gevry, Daniel Hawkins, Alex Korth and Alex Woods qualified to compete at the National Convention and the Agricultural Mechanics team consisting of Jordan Fleming, Joey Gould, Andy Kayhart and Devin Parker won the state event. The competition year continued with the Big E Fair held in Springfield, MA in September 2012 at which the Agricultural Mechanics team earned fifth place at the regional competition. The Land and Soil Judging Competition was also in September 2012 at Vermont Technical College and the team of Caleb Dion-Johnson, Jordan Fleming, Ethan Gevry, Nick Jackson, Devin Parker, Grady O’Connor and Mikayla VanderWey earned third place

One highlight of each year is traveling to the national FFA convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the teams meet and socialize with other FFA members from across the nation.  In October 2012 the VUHS FFA teams again showed well at the national level with the winning Ag Mechanics team of Jordan Fleming, Joey Gould, Andy Kayhart and Devin Parker and Parliamentary Procedure team of Daniel Hawkins, Alex Korth Alex Woods, Chase Atkins and Mikayla VanderWey earning the bronze category.

Recently the groups competed at the Vermont Farm Show in Essex in January 2013 and the Milk Quality and Products Team of Trevor Currier, Grady O’Connor, Devin Parker and Shawnna VanderWey earned second place while several members won awards for their high quality Vermont products of hay, haylage, corn silage, balage, eggs, pickles and Vermont themed baked goods. These competitions allow not only the students to work on skills key to being successful in agricultural sciences but to meet and network with others their own age committed to being the next generation of farmers in Vermont and around the country.“ They get recognition for their hard work,” Bill VanDeWeert explained. “Of course the trips are costly and we do fundraising every year, but what they come away with is so worth the effort and the time it takes to prepare for them.”

The benefits to FFA are immeasurable not only for the students but for Americans as well. In a world where technology is increasing the sizes of farms and changing the operation of traditional farms, Americans need to understand that their future meals and bounty of produce rests in the hands, education and commitment of the next generation learning, growing, working and loving the heritage of farming in Vermont and across the nation. A recent Superbowl commercial featuring the voice of radio personality Paul Harvey paying tribute to farmers said it best. “God said I need somebody strong enough to heave bales, yet gentle enough to wean lambs and to feed pigs. Who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadowlark, it had to be someone who would plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Someone to seed, weed, feed and rake, and disc and plow and tie the fleece and bring the milk. Someone who would bind a family together with the soft bonds of sharing and who would laugh and sigh with smiling eyes when his son says, that he wants to spend his life doing what dad does.”


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