FFA ~ teaching life skills for 89 years


Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The Future Farmers of America organization was established in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri. In the past 89 years, FFA has grown to be more than just an club for future farmers.

FFA is very much alive and expanding every day at Pocahontas County High School. With a classroom, welding shop, greenhouse and meats processing shop, plus all the farms in Pocahontas County, the students have expanded their knowledge and experience into the communities and businesses to prepare for their futures.

Agriculture education teacher and FFA sponsor Erwin Berry may only be in his third year at PCHS, but with 34 years of teaching behind him, he has tons of experience to pass on to his students.

Berry came to PCHS at a time when FFA and ag education was in a slight decline, but with his help and the energy of the students, the program as returned to and even surpassed its former glory.

“I’ve always been hired to build programs,” he said. “I’ve never walked into a good program, but I’ve also made sure that it grew, not because of me, but because of the students I had, and I have.”

The program has also grown, in large part, through help from the community. Berry and fellow FFA sponsor Scott Garber have organized an alumni program which currently has 46 members.

Those members are helping the program thrive by giving helping hands to Berry and Garber in the realm of fundraising, trips and training.

Along with teaching students the ins and outs of agriculture in classes like horticulture, ag mechanics, meats processing, animal science and more, FFA has students learning the ropes through their Supervised Agriculture Experience projects. Students pick a business – whether it be raising cattle, pigs, sheep or crops – and they keep records and track the results.

“These kids have to keep records on what they’re doing,” Berry said. “They have to do online financial records that they can do at home or they can do here. I help them with that because it doesn’t come natural to them. It’s a little rougher when you’re doing inventory and balance sheets and income statements. It’s a little different than balancing a checkbook.”

The students also compete in state and national competitions which include animal judging, public speaking and team efforts.

“We just got back from the Small Farms Conference in Charleston,” Berry said. “I took five kids to that. We got some ideas on not only what kids can do for their Supervised Ag Experience programs which is their enterprises that they do outside of school, but also, there’s a competition – a marketing competition – and we’re going to pair up with Frostmore Farm, Rachel and Adam Taylor, and we’re going to develop a marketing development plan for them.”

The students will work with the Taylors and the PCHS business department to develop a website and brochures for Frostmore Farm and will submit the project to the competition.

“We’ll use visual effects – we’ll use all kinds of things,” Berry said. “It’s a real life situation that we’re really going to be developing, and it’s a competition, too. There’s no doubt in my mind our kids will do well and it will help Rachel and Adam to grow their business.”

Another new competition will include students from both the ag and forestry departments. Berry and Garber are working with the students to form an envirothon team which will have students compete in areas including forestry, soil science, aquatic science and wildlife management.

“It’s a very hands-on, critical thinking, problem-solving kind of competition,” Berry said. “We’re using people like Amy Coleman – she used to be a teacher here. She’s working with the National Forest Service. Scott Garber and I are going to work together. He’s an expert on forestry. I can work with the kids with soils and with that kind of collaboration, I think the kids will have a huge advantage.”

Berry said he has also asked Shenda Smith, of Marlinton, to help with the environmental science aspect of the envirothon.

While competitions get the students out in the field and out of the county to experience agriculture on a state and national level, many of the programs in the ag department prepare the students to enter the workforce if they do not plan to start their own farm or business.

The meats program, the newest addition to the ag department, gives students the hands-on experience of processing meats – including venison and beef.

“We process deer in the fall during deer season,” Berry said. “We’re also processing beef, pork, lamb and goats for local people. We’ve gained our experience through Allegheny Meats in Monterey, Virginia.”

Berry trained at Allegheny Meats and in turn, is training students to process meat.

“I’ve gone there and trained because I want them to hire our kids,” Berry said. “They’re pretty excited about that, too, because they have a lot of turnover in that particular business. So, in training me, I’ll be able to train the kids exactly how they want them to be trained and then they’ve got a kid that can just walk right in and take off.”

With so many aspects to ag education and FFA, students are able to find their niche, and sometimes, Berry is the one who sees their potential before they do. Berry said he pushes students to do things that may not be in their comfort zone, but in the long run, it’s the thing they are meant to do.

In growing the students’ talents, the program is growing community-oriented young men and women who understand the importance of community and working together.

“The one common denominator of all these things – from the alumni to working with other teachers to working with community members – is we’re trying to make this more of a collaboration and a community program instead of just our program,” Berry said. “We’re getting there. It’s a process, but I think we’re coming along. I’m excited about it.”

“What does FFA mean to you?”

Brandal Carr, President: I joined FFA because my brother and my sister were both in FFA and my brother and sister were both presidents of FFA, so I kind of grew up in FFA. I’ve always loved being in it with Spencer and Kendra, and I just fell in love with it. My favorite part is the family of officers coming together and working together.

Charity Morrison: To me, FFA means that I can enhance my agricultural experiences through my Supervised Agricultural Experience. I can learn and make better decisions about my agricultural business and care for my animals. In class, I am able to learn more about FFA history and be able to practice parliamentary procedure and learn about production, agriculture, forestry, ag mechanics, horticulture, animal and plan science and soils.

Savannah Arbogast: FFA and ag education bring our communities together and create future jobs for agriculturalists. I think the FFA program also brings honor, courage and responsibility to young people today. I learn more about agriculture by being in class and by participating in fundraisers and activities and by going on educational field trips.

Kyle Cohenour: FFA to me is more than just farming and hard labor. To me, it is about the time and dedication that is applied toward different aspects in life including social skills, patience, the importance of hard work and making a difference among the lives of those in my community.
This organization has also taught me to take pride, but stay humble, in the accomplishments in my life. I encourage people to take part in FFA and seek the respect and helpful life morals that are a part of it.

Kurtis Kiner: FFAers are past, present and future. Like FFA creed says, “achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturalists; in the promise better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from struggles of former years.” FFA is respect, passion and a deep love for agriculture. This is what FFA means to me.

Noah Barkley: Being an officer in FFA has opened up doorways to many opportunities. It has created paths to experience agriculture and leadership in a new era of farming, as well as meeting many lifelong friends along the way. Being in FFA has taught me leadership and financial responsibility, as well as given me many great memories and useful tools that I can utilize for the rest of my life.

Ben Davis: FFA is very important to me, and I have been a member for two years. One of my proudest moments is when I put my FFA jacket on for the very first time. FFA opens many opportunities for students, and FFA has taught me many important skills that will be very important in my adult life and has changed my outlook on the world of agriculture. That is why FFA is important to me.

Matthias Solliday: Being in FFA is a huge deal for me. FFA has shown me what it is to work along with other people. I have just started taking classes that are involved with FFA and they have already taught me a huge variety of skills that I will be able to use later in life. Later in life, I hope to have my own little farm and what I am learning in the meats class will let me be able to butcher my own animals and be able to provide food for my family. FFA is a great opportunity to learn useful skills that will be great to know later in life.

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