Many of you know about the Future Farmers of America—an agricultural organization in our schools designed to prepare boys and girls for careers in the field of agriculture. Some of you might also recognize the blue corduroy jackets with the gold trim worn by FFA members.
What you might not know is that this national organization, which now has about 670,000 members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, started in Weyers Cave in northern Augusta County.
The story really goes back to the 1917 Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act that established vocational agriculture courses in public schools across the country. Vocational agricultural became part of the Augusta County curriculum in 1924.
The next part of the story comes in 1925 when Walter S. Newman was appointed State Supervisor of Agricultural Education. Sensing that many young men were abandoning the farm for other vocations, he felt that farming needed a morale boost. While at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, he proposed a solution.
In my opinion the farm boys of Virginia who are enrolled in vocational agriculture are equal to any other group of boys in the state. But somehow the boys themselves seem to have a feeling of inferiority … I believe that a strong organization of our boys in agriculture would help them… Let’s form an organization that will give them a greater opportunity for self-expression and for the development of leadership.
That proposal launched the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV). However, until a club was chartered, the organization was just an idea. In 1927, 28 students at Weyers Cave High school, under the direction of agriculture teacher E.B. Craun, formed FFV chapter No. 1 with students in the agriculture class. Within a year the success of the clubs across Virginia was such that its name was changed to Future Farmers of America with headquarters in Kansas City.
The initial strength of the organization in Augusta and the rest of the Valley has never subsided. Girls became an important part of the organization in 1969. Eventually the membership age stretched from 12 to 21 allowing for chapters in middle schools and colleges. Today an historical highway marker stands just east of Weyers Cave commemorating the formation of the first FFA chapter in the world.
And, throughout our service area, the value of FFA and our youth’s interest in agriculture cannot be understated. The beauty we enjoy in the Valley depends on successful, working farmland and we remain committed to continuing our work making sure people still know the value of our farmers, future farmers, and their lands, well into the 21st century.