One might say the California FFA program has had a rollercoaster of a year so far, but through it all, the second largest FFA association in the nation has remain anchored.
In April, California FFA announced that its state convention had outgrown Fresno and would be moving to Anaheim. In 1994, when the state conference was first held in Fresno, only 1,500 members attended. Today the conference draws more than 7,000 students from the state’s 330 chapters.
“Our event has grown by approximately 2,000 participants over the past five years,” said Josiah Mayfield, Assistant State FFA Advisor. “One of the main reasons for the growth would be due to the growth in our statewide membership. Over the past five years our membership has grown by over 10,000 students.”
California FFA now boasts an 87,000-strong state-wide membership.
Despite those impressive figures, news broke in May that the California FFA was on Governor Jerry Brown’s chopping block. In his first draft of the 2017-2018 state budget, Brown proposed to completely eliminate the $15 million funding for career technical education programs, such as FFA.
And this wasn’t the first time the governor had taken a swing at the state’s FFA program. In 2014 Brown proposed to cut the $4.1 million Agriculture Education Incentive Grant until hundreds of FFA students from across California gathered at the State Capitol to show how critical the FFA program is to the future of California.
This year California FFA won the budget battle again as Brown ended up reversing that section of his 2017-18 state budget proposal.
Mayfield said the credit for this year’s budget victory belongs to the lobbying efforts of Jim Aschwanden and the California Agriculture Teacher’s Association (CATA). Aschwanden serves as the Executive Director for CATA and one of his responsibilities is lobbying on behalf of California Agriculture Education and FFA.
“It was through CATA’s efforts that the message was able to reach our supporters, and pressure was then put on Sacramento to add the funds back in to the California Department of Education budget,” Mayfield said. “My advice to other states would be to organize their teacher group, and identify someone who can lobby for their needs. Agriculture education nationwide needs a stronger political voice.”
That strong voice is essential for California FFA as membership is only expected to be on the up and up from here on out. Students recently voted to open membership to middle schools. Mayfield said the association is expecting a 5,000 to 10,000 jump in membership in the next two years due to middle school involvement.
This is on top of the organic growth the state FFA association has already achieved. According to Mayfield, the vast majority of the 87,000 FFA members do not come from an agriculture background, however they are attracted to the three components of agriculture education. California FFA strives to offer engaging science-based classroom instruction, combined with hands-on experiences and leadership development. And the association makes it available in the most urban areas of the state such as Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento, and the Bay Area.
It’s paying off in terms of membership numbers.
“Our statewide program has been consistently growing over the past few years,” Mayfield said. “A few factors include opening membership opportunities to private schools, increased leadership opportunities through our State FFA Leadership Development Continuum, and increased CTE dollars through the CTE Incentive Grant.”
Mayfield said California FFA hopes to break the 100,000-member mark in the next five to seven years.
It’s likely an attainable goal for the state FFA assocation, whose theme this year is Anchored — Anchored in Service, Values, and Agriculture.
“Our team chose this theme to express our goals of staying true to our roots. In these next couple years, our association is going through many changes,” said Luke O’Leary, California State FFA President. “We are constantly having to advocate for continued support of agricultural education, while simultaneously working to serve the growing membership of our state. Yet, in these waves of change, we are confident the California FFA Association will stay anchored and continue to impact the lives of thousands of students for years to come.”
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