In 1988, Future Farmers of America changed its name to simply be the more recognized FFA, and for good reason. The national organization had grown to be more than a farming organization. Members learn to be farmers, but they also learn to be gardeners, foresters, welders, butchers, horticulturalists, livestock experts and leaders.
The six officers of the Pocahontas County High School FFA Chapter are perfect examples of the diversity of the organization. Yes, they are farmers, but they are also athletes, rodeo stars and young entrepreneurs. One is shy and soft spoken, while others are energetic and talk a mile a minute. Several are second or third generation FFA members, while one never heard of FFA before moving to Pocahontas County.
They are all individuals with their own goals and dreams, but because of FFA, they are also a unit, a family brought together by their love of agriculture and eagerness to learn about the traditions of the past and the innovations of the future.
President Lilly Stephens is a senior and first learned about FFA when she was in the eighth grade when agriculture education teacher Erwin Berry gave a presentation at her school.
“I was like, ‘oh, that seems like a fun class to take,’” she said. “I really like the fact that it gets you outside. You get to do other things. I also like the fact that FFA is a long- standing tradition. It’s young people carrying on the old traditions which I think is really important, especially now because I feel like we’re losing a lot of old traditions.”
Stephens had never heard of FFA until she moved to Pocahontas County from Bridgeport. Her family is still a little uncertain about what the club is, but she is proud to explain to them what she is learning and what she has done with the organization.
“None of my family has ever heard of it – they’re just like, ‘you’re the president of something, a bunch of country kids who run around with their sheep,’ and I’m like, ‘no not exactly,’” she said, laughing.
Stephens served as sentinel and secretary before becoming president, an office she’s held for two years.
After graduation, Stephens plans to attend Davis & Elkins College and study nursing. She also plans to carry on her membership in FFA, if she can compile a group of students to join her.
“They don’t have an FFA organization, but if I can get myself and nine other people together, then I can found a FFA club at D&E, so that’s my plan for next year,” she said.
Vice president Traves Lewis is a junior, and he grew up on his family farm.
“I’ve been around farming all my life,” he said. “I live on a farm that has many classes of poultry and goats. We also have cows on the backside of the farm. Personally, I raise registered and market goats and then we have poultry which consists of ducks, geese, turkeys and guineas. I have rabbits – I just started rabbits.”
Lewis is following in the footsteps of several family members by joining FFA and although he grew up on a farm, he is the first to say that FFA is welcoming to all kinds of students.
“You don’t have to be on a farm,” he said. “I would convince people by telling them that you don’t have to be in a horticulture, agriculture field [to join]. If you enjoy being outside and enjoy learning new things around horticulture, ag – around that field – that’s what matters. You don’t have to have a career that revolves around it. You can go into nursing like Lily is or you can be an engineer.
“Any field you go to, it’s going to involve part of what you’ve learned,” he added.
Reporter Sara Stull is a junior and has been in FFA since her freshman year.
“Both my brothers were in FFA and once I got into high school, I knew I wanted to complete (three years) in something,” she said. “I took Ag I and Horticulture, and I just fell in love with it.”
This is Stull’s first year as an officer, but she has enjoyed taking on a leadership role in the club.
Secretary Makayla Ervine is a senior who has been a completer in both computer applications as well as agriculture.
“I completed in all my computer apps classes, and I needed to take something different,” she said. “I had a friend who was also in the class and they said it was really good. I decided to join.”
Ervine said she enjoys FFA because she is able to meet new people and likes doing work that is fulfilling.
“Just being outside, meeting new people, and getting to hang out and work,” she said. “But it doesn’t feel like work when we do it because we’re all having fun with it.”
After graduation, Ervine plans to pursue a degree in radiology.
Sentinel Hannah Burks is a sophomore who hopes to one day be president of the club.
“Sentinel is stationed at the door,” she said, explaining her office. “I’m kind of the greeter of the group. Introducing us to people. Kind of a spokesperson. If you need anything, I’ve got you.”
Burks began her agriculture education at a young age through her 4-H club. She remembers being at a ham, bacon and egg sale and seeing the FFA members in their blue jackets, which left an impression.
“I saw them, and I didn’t really know much about them, but I was like, ‘man they look good,’” she said.
It wasn’t long before she got one of those jackets for herself, although she had been an old pro at participating in shows through 4-H.
“I’ve always had animals at home,” she said. “I would say 4-H definitely led me into FFA. I’m also a member of 4-H, so I was raising livestock through that and then I got into FFA and now, I’m not only raising livestock, but I’m learning more of the financial side. I feel like I’m learning more about how to have an entrepreneurship in it with FFA.”
Burks is following her dad and brother who were also in FFA. It wasn’t until her teacher, Andy Friel, told her about being in the club with her dad that she learned he was a member, as well.
“I didn’t even know my dad was in FFA, and I got in FFA and then he told me he won at nationals, and I’m like, ‘why didn’t I ever know about this?’” she said. “Then I found his old FFA jacket and I was like, ‘oh my gosh.’”
Not only did Burks’ dad, John Paul Burks, win at nationals, he was number one in the nation in forestry.
“Yeah, he told me all about that,” Burks said. “He said at states he won third and his two other buddies beat him. He got so mad, so every day after school he stayed and worked with his forestry teacher and they went out to Kansas City and he won nationals out there.”
Although Burks has yet to compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she did get to attend the state convention with several of her fellow officers.
“It was a blast,” she said. “I absolutely loved it.”
Parliamentarian Jessica Armstrong is a sophomore and began her agriculture career in 4-H. She was showing steers before she became an FFA member and continues to be a beam of energy that spreads excitement to her fellow officers.
“I just kind of make sure the meetings run correctly, make sure we didn’t leave anything out,” she said. “I just kind of tell everybody to do something.
“I’ve lived on my own farm my entire life, raising livestock,” she continued. “My dad was in FFA. I was kind of forced into FFA, but I really enjoy it. I connect and bond with other people with my experience and their experience.”
Treasurer Logan Wimer is a junior and although he hasn’t been able to compete or attend conventions, he has enjoyed his time in the organization.
“I’ve had family members that have been in FFA, and Mr. Berry came down my eighth grade year to do a PowerPoint presentation to tell us what it was about,” he said. “I thought it was pretty interesting so I said, ‘you know what, I think I should try this.’ So my freshman year, I tried it, and I really enjoyed it.”
While it’s been a trying year for the club because of the continued precautions due to COVID, the officers are ready to get back to normal with the club’s events and conventions.
They are planning the annual ham, bacon, egg show and sale, the livestock show and sale and getting the greenhouse ready for the spring growing season.
As they go about their school year, participating in athletics and academic programs, there’s no denying who they are when they wear their dark blue corduroy jackets.
They are FFA.