When most of us think about successful state FFA chapters, the small Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is one of the last places that comes to mind. However, this small, but mighty chapter is thriving today … right along with the U.S. territory’s rejuvenated agricultural sector.
“The recent boom in the industry is very exciting, many past members are a part of this movement and current members are eager to follow,” said Brittney Vázquez, Puerto Rico FFA state president. “Although we can’t take full credit, we cannot deny that the efforts of past and present members have played a hand in this.”
Vázquez is referring to the territory’s recent boom in farm income after a 10-year recession and a continuing debt crisis. According to mainstream media and the Puerto Rico’s governor’s office, farm income grew 25 percent to more than $900 million in 2012-2014. Farm acreage rose 50 percent over the past four years, generating at least 7,000 jobs.
Puerto Rico FFA has also been growing. Since the association became active in 1932, the territory is now home to150 chapters and 2,650 student members. The island also has two collegiate chapters, one of which was founded this semester.
While Puerto Rico does not have an FFA Alumni program currently, Vázquez said many former members have taken the skills acquired during their time as members and have excelled in their chosen fields. One of these individuals is Javier Moreno, the first Puerto Rican elected as a National FFA president in 2003.
“I believe that Puerto Rico FFA has been successful because everyone has their roots in agriculture,” Vázquez said. “In a cultural sense, our ancestors’ main trade has always been agriculture and many of us grew up watching our grandparents or older family members tending to their crops or talking about their younger days when working the land was virtually their only food source.”
Vázquez said over the years Puerto Rico FFA has faced just as many challenges as the territory’s agricultural sector.
“The fall of the industry led to many people regarding agriculture as a pipe dream or for uneducated people,” Vázquez sad. “In recent years, we have doubled our efforts into teaching not only students but also members of the community its importance in order to erase the stigma on agriculture.”
The Puerto Rico FFA association encourages their members to use the skills they learned in class. Many local businesses now employ members as part-time workers or simply let them volunteer. Next year, the association’s main goal is to ensure members have access to the knowledge and tools they will need to work in the island’s growing agricultural sector and to encourage members to stay on the island to contribute to that growth.
For other small chapters where agriculture is not the main industry, Vázquez advises FFA leaders to be patient and not give up.
“Always be enthusiastic and let the world know how much you love FFA and why it can make a difference. Agvocate and engage students. Exploit whatever makes your chapter or state unique,” said Vázquez. “Make sure that you do not build a cold and hollow organization but a second home. If you do this, as simple as it may sound, there will be no obstacle able to hold you back.”
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