Laura Dean Bennett
It’s not every year that a FFA American Farmer degree is awarded to a young person in Pocahontas County.
But this year, Pocahontas County has not one, but two award winners.
Receiving 2020 American Farmer degrees are Noah Barkley, of Boyer, and Benjamin Davis, of Minnehaha Springs.
The FFA American Farmer Degree is the highest degree achievable in the National Future Farmers of America. It is the gold standard of the organization.
This degree is a result of a member’s dedication to his or her chapter and state FFA association.
It demonstrates the effort FFA members apply toward their supervised agricultural experience and the outstanding leadership abilities and community involvement they exhibited throughout their FFA career.
American Farmer Degree recipients show promise for the future and have gone above and beyond to achieve excellence.
The last time the FFA awarded an American Farmer degree to a young person in Pocahontas County was several years ago when Charles Wilfong was so honored.
American Farmer candidates must be one year out of high school and have completed the entire FFA program – earning Green Hand, Chapter Farmer and State Farmer designations before pursuing the American Farmer degree.
Normally, degree recipients receive their awards at the national convention held every year in October.
National conventions are usually quite the extravaganza, with thousands of FFA members in attendance – all wearing official dress.
“In 2018, the national convention was held at the Indianapolis Colts’ Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, and we were entertained by Garth Brooks,” Equine FFA sponsor Susan Davis remembered.
Ben Davis, whose parents are Doug and Susan Davis, graduated from Pocahontas County High School in 2019 and is now a sophomore at West Virginia University.
He was raised on the family farm in Minnehaha Springs.
Ben’s career in FFA reflects years of hard work and leadership training.
“The FFA is definitely a good experience,” he said. “It has taught me so much, especially leadership skills and public speaking.
“It teaches you skills that prepare you for the workforce.
“The FFA American Farmer is really an honor, because so few members ever achieve it.
“It requires leadership skills, dedication to finishing what you’ve started and public service,” he explained.
“Ben was a Pocahontas County chapter secretary in 2016-2017, vice-president in 2017-2018 and president in 2018-2019, and he participated in the State and National FFA Conventions,” PCHS Agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor Erwin Berry, said.
And Ben won First Place in the State FFA Talent Show in 2016.
“He was a member of the State Winning Horse Judging Team in 2018, and was named First Place Individual in that event in 2017 and 2018.
“In 2017, he was on the Pocahontas County FFA State Livestock Judging Team. And Ben was on our first place soils judging team in 2018.”
In addition, Ben participated in all the FFA fundraisers that the local chapter hosted, did many community service activities in the county and received his State FFA degree in 2018 at the West Virginia State Convention.
Ben’s Supervised Agriculture Experiences (SAE) consisted of being a manager on his family’s farm where he’s paid a salary for managing, feeding and harvesting feed.
“I raised Angus-Cross beef cattle for my project,” Ben explained.
Ben’s net worth in his beef enterprise is $18,260, and he has earned and productively invested $19,865.
“I think I’ve been lucky to be raised on a farm,” Ben said. “I like to work outside, and you can see what you have achieved at the end of the day – unlike a lot of jobs.
“Farming has taught me a lot about responsibility and the importance of hard work.
“On a farm, you never get bored; you never know what’s going to happen.
“You may end up doctoring a sick animal all night or working late to get equipment fixed.
“But you don’t quit until the job is finished,” he said proudly.
“I want to come home after college, work with the rest of my family, and someday take over when my parents and grandparents are unable to farm.”
Besides raising cattle, Ben enjoys working with horses and competing with them.
He’s shown his horse, Zbest Hotrodder “Rodney,” and other horses at the West Virginia State Fair and many other shows around the region.
“I like riding horses because it’s challenging and we travel to different places to compete,” Ben said.
And, if you’re good enough, it’s a great way to win a lot of awards. Here are a few of Ben’s:
First place WV Equine Judging Team 2018
First Place WV Equine Judging Individual 2018
Fourth Place WV Livestock Judging Individual 2018
2016 State FFA and 4-H Horse Show High Point Overall, High Point Senior Western and High Point Quarter Horse with Trouble with My Banjo
2017 State FFA and 4-H Horse Show High Point Senior Western with Unzip in the Moonlite
2018 State FFA and 4-H Horse Show High Point Overall, High Point Senior Western, High Point Quarter Horse with Zbest Hotrodder and second place in Equine Skillathon
But there’s more to Ben than a killer sense of competition.
“I’m pursuing a nursing degree because I like to help people,” he said. “There are job opportunities in nursing here, and I know I want to come back to Pocahontas County to live and work.
“With so many changes on the WVU campus because of the coronavirus, things have been different this year,” Ben said about college life.
“It was disappointing not to be able to interact with other students and teachers.
“I only have one in-person class, but I stay in Morgantown during the week because the internet is so much better there,” he explained.
“I’m looking forward to completing my Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree, and coming home to live and work on the farm.”
Noah Barkley is also a FFA American Farmer honoree.
Like Ben, Noah is a natural-born FFA star.
Noah’s home is on the Barkley family farm in Boyer where he lives with his father, Matthew Barkley.
Noah is a sophomore at Potomac State College of West Virginia University in Keyser, where he is pursuing an Associate Degree in Agriculture Business and Resource Management.
“FFA is a golden ticket to expanding your agricultural knowledge,” Noah stated.
“I mean, my granddad and my dad taught me a lot about farming. They gave me good advice about what worked for them and doing things the old way.
“But there are modern tactics these days, and FFA was a great education in that way,” he said.
“FFA gave me a lot of self-confidence, and it’s also a great way to make friends for a lifetime.”
Noah believes that the future of the family farm is alive and well in Pocahontas County.
“Family farms are thriving here,” he said. “Look at the Wilfongs. Theirs is the largest family farm in the county, and they’re always expanding and doing more community interaction.
“And the same with the McLaughlin family farm and their flower and produce business.
“Family farms let the community see what agriculture really is.
“It would be sad if people couldn’t know where their food came from and how it was raised.
“And they’re important,” Noah stated. “I think family farms help us to stay true to our traditions and roots.
“The whole family working a farm helps keep the family together. It teaches you morals and how to work with your family.
“My dad always had sheep on our farm.
“One of my first memories – probably from about seven years old – is of seeing all the lambs and watching them run around.
“I decided way back then that I wanted to raise sheep, too.
“I think one key thing is to work hard and set goals in life.
“I started researching sheep breeds and how to build a breeding operation.
“Now, I’ve got 28 purebred North Country Cheviots – two rams and 26 ewes.
“I’m always trying to improve my flock.
“Some of my greatest memories are of working around on the farm – like the times my grandfather would take me and my cousins out to cut wood.
“Of course, at the time, I was probably thinking, ‘Why do I have to do this?’ But as I look back on it now, I realize they’re precious memories.”
During his time at PCHS, Noah was a stand-out FFA student.
He was a four-year member of FFA, and an FFA officer for three years.
“Noah productively invested $9,123 in savings into his farming programs,” Berry said. “And he contributed 60 hours to community service activities.”
His three agriculture enterprises, called Supervised Agriculture Experiences (SAEs) were poultry-egg production, raising North Country Cheviot Sheep and raising market goats.
“His financial records, which were required as a part of his Agriculture Class duties showed gross revenues from 2016 to 2019 of more than $18,700 with gross expenses of $7,600,” Berry continued.
“His net income, over the course of his four years of Ag education was over $11,000, with current inventory values of more than $6,700 and a net worth of $9,953.”
Noah received his state FFA degree in 2018 at the West Virginia State Convention.
He participated in the State and National FFA Conventions, was a member of the State Winning Horse Judging Team in 2018, was a first place winner in the regional FFA Public Speaking Contest, was on the State Livestock Judging Team, and also participated in Soils Judging and Tractor Driving Competitions at the regional level.
“I’d definitely recommend FFA to anybody,” Noah said. “And you don’t need to live on a farm or even in the country to get a lot out of FFA. There are so many opportunities in FFA – it’s not all about agriculture.
“Students who live in the city can study modern-day agriculture. They can learn about roof-top gardens and truck farming, or public speaking and parliamentary procedure.”
Like Ben, Noah has no doubt whatsoever about what his future holds.
“I know what I want to do,” he said. “I’m going to work on my family’s farm and also pursue my other passion – working for the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad.
“I like to work with steam locomotives. Last season I worked as a fireman, basically a boiler operator, at all three locations – Cass, Durbin and Elkins, but primarily in Durbin.
“So I’m planning to work on Barkley Farm and on the railroad.
“Pocahontas County has always been in my heart.
“It’s like a safe haven – like a time capsule.
“If it was up to me, I’d be in Pocahontas County all the time.