A 100 percent membership is a feat for any state FFA association but it’s a mark that the Massachusetts FFA has reached the past six years.
Their strategy? Ensuring everyone is a member.
“The structure of agricultural education is very unique in Massachusetts. The majority of our agriculture programs are part of a larger career and technical education program at regional vocational high schools. Those programs range from 20 to a little over 100 students each,” said Kimberly LaFleur, State FFA Advisor, Massachusetts FFA Association. “Then there are three large programs (465 – 540 students) where the entire student body is enrolled in agriculture classes that are divided out by majors, such as: Animal Science, Arboriculture, Diesel Technology, Floriculture, Landscape Management, Marine Science, Natural Resource Management, Sustainable Horticulture, and Veterinary Science.”
LaFleur said the state’s s smaller programs have always had 100 percent membership, but after modeling the state program after the National FFA Program Affiliation fee structure and gaining approval from superintendents of the three largest programs in 2010, the results skyrocketed. Massachusetts FFA had 100 percent state membership that year, and has maintained it ever since.
The 2,013 members from 15 chapters across the state are also excelling in the organization. At the 2016 National FFA Convention, the Bristol FFA Veterinary Science team captured a first place win, the second national winning team that Massachusetts has had since 1931. In addition to the vet team, the Essex FFA Forestry team took home a sixth place finish and, six silver and eight bronze team awards were also awarded to Massachusetts chapters this year.
LaFleur said the Bristol FFA vet science students set themselves apart from the competition with hard work.
“Excellent classroom and programmatic instruction prepared the students with the technical knowledge they needed in order to be successful. The students themselves recognized the need to perform as a cohesive unit, and spent many hours outside of the classroom studying and practicing for the competition itself,” LaFleur said. “When you have highly motivated, confident, prepared, and determined students, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.”
In addition to motivated students, the Massachusetts FFA program is highly unique in the tools they provide their students.
“When traveling outside of the state, others involved with ag education are always surprised to hear about the programs and educational facilities available to our students,” LaFleur said. “It is not often you hear about school campuses over 200 acres, with working farms, full assortment of farm equipment and heavy equipment, and specialized majors.”
According to LaFleur, Massachusetts FFA has the largest high school agricultural education departments in the U.S., with one program alone having 22 teachers in three separate ag departments.
This strategy has also translated into successful FFA alumni. Through a tremendous effort of a core group of past state officers, the Massachusetts alumni membership is growing. Since reactivating their membership charter in 2014, membership has grown to over 350 individuals.
One such example is Chris Grant, a graduate of Essex Agricultural & Technical High School and a two-term State FFA Officer. Grant Family Farm was started in 2006 as Grant’s Plants as part of Grant’s FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience. A published author, Grant wrote Fears of a Wantrepreneur in 2014 which details the story behind the teenaged entrepreneur, who grew his successful business against all odds. Today Grant’s Family Farm grows a wide variety of vegetables and ethnic crops, cut flowers, and pasture-raised eggs and poultry. Their products are featured at farmer’s markets, specialty food stores, food cooperatives, restaurants, and right on the farm.
LaFleur said the state association is always looking for new and creative ways to get students involved as active members. The Massachusetts FFA has increased Career Development Event opportunities for 2017 by adding new events that members have expressed interest in. For the second year in a row, the association will implement a statewide community service project — focusing on child nutrition and food insecurity for 2017 – with the hope that instilling the knowledge of where food comes from, along with the hands-on activity of growing your own food, will result in their members making healthy food choices.
“Membership in FFA does not last forever, but the life skills learned do. It is my hope that our members take advantage of all the program has to offer,” LaFleur said. “They are given a unique opportunity to take an active role in their own education, find what they are passionate about, and prepare themselves for life in an ever-changing world. The poise, confidence, and drive for success that FFA members have sets them apart from their peers.”