The National FFA Organization has come a long way since the founding in 1928. The official name of the organization is now the National FFA Organization. The letters “FFA” stand for Future Farmers of America. But FFA is not just for students who want to be production farmers; FFA also welcomes members who aspire to careers as teachers, doctors, scientists, business owners and more. For this reason, the name was updated to The National FFA Organization in 1988 to reflect the growing diversity of the organization.
The FFA story began in Virginia with a man named Henry Groseclose, a teacher from Buckingham County, Virginia, who is often considered the organizer of the program. Together with Edmund Magill, an itinerant teacher trainer who worked with agricultural education teachers throughout Virginia; Harry Sanders, an ag teacher from Manassas High School; and Walter Newman, who would be named as the head state supervisor of agricultural education for the Virginia Department of Education; Groseclose organized the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV), which would one day become the National FFA Organization.
The original FFA allowed only boys to join. Agriculture teachers and FFA advisors were men. In 1969 women were officially allowed membership into the National FFA Organization. In the 50+ years since the formal acceptance of female membership, women have become an integral part of the organization.
Agricultural education first became a part of the public education system in 1917 when the U.S. Congress passed the Smith-Hughes Act. Today, over 800,000 students participate in formal agricultural education instructional programs offered in grades seven-adult throughout the 50 states and three U. S. territories. The National FFA Organization is a co-curricular club for students taking agriculture classes.
After a virtual National FFA convention in 2020, the 2021 National FFA Convention was held in-person. The Forestry Team from Broadway High School qualified to compete in the national competition at the convention, held in October, 2021, with great results; the team placed third in the nation! Two members of the team placed in the top ten individually! To make it to the national competition, the BHS team had to win the federation, then the area, then the state Forestry competition! They were first out of six teams at the state level, and competed against 36 teams at the national level. Broadway High School Agriculture Teacher and FFA advisor was the team coach.
Would you like to meet the FFA members who accomplished this feat? Here is some information on these four amazing individuals who worked together as a team as well as competed in individual events!
Jessica Showalter is now a student at Blue Ridge Community College and is the daughter of Jennifer and Warren (Wes) Showalter of Broadway. Jessica graduated from Broadway High School and Massanutten Regional Governor’s School; she got an associates degree at the same time. She is planning a career in forestry/resource conservation. She has been on the FFF Forestry team since 8th grade. She says she was “not expecting to do that well; it is cool that we did!” She credits Mr. John Welsh, her Ag teacher and FFA advisor at J. Frank Hillyard Middle School for preparing her and encouraging her. Jessica placed fourth individually at the national competition. She also gives a shout out to Mr. Daniel Black, Mr. Herb Hoffeditz, and Ms. Janae Pettit, Agriculture teachers and FFA advisers at Broadway High School, for “spending many hours working with FFA.” Her younger brother, Allen, is also on the team, which she says was convenient when going to practice and activities.
Grace Fravel, now a student at Eastern Mennonite University, is working on a business administration degree there. She is the daughter of Katherine and Carroll Fravel of Fulks Run. She credits Forestry competition with preparing her for the future through learning basics about trees, invasive insects, and working together with others on a team to solve a problem together. She has been with some of the same team members since middle school, and found Forestry contests rewarding. Grace is a member of the EMU softball team; she plays third base and is a pitcher!
Blake Payne is an 18-year-old senior at Broadway High School, and is the son of Robin and Stanley Payne of Fulks Run. Blake placed sixth individually in his first time at national competition. He says “It’s fun because you get to meet a lot of people from across the nation, and see how they do things.” He plans to attend Dabney Lancaster Community College and continue in the field of Forestry. His mom was an FFA officer at Broadway High School as well as his sister Katie.
Allen Showalter is a junior at Broadway High School, and the son of Jennifer and Warren (Wes) Showalter. Allen reports that “being on the team was a great experience; I got to meet lots of new people at competitions, see new places, and have a great time with our FFA advisers and the rest of the team.” His team won third at national competition the second year he was on the Senior Forestry team.
Kudos to these four FFA members who were all willing to talk to me during spring break (for the high schoolers) and with a busy college schedule (for the two young ladies.) On a personal note, when I was a student at Mathias 12 Year School in West Virginia, girls were not allowed to take Agriculture classes or join FFA. It is inspiring to see many girls now participating! (I did learn parliamentary procedure from FFA competitions, because we were allowed to go to the gym and watch the competitions among the guys while I was in high school! Knowing how to conduct a meeting has been invaluable in my life especially when I was the first female chair of the Virginia High School League and conducted membership meetings which included principals from every high school in the state!)
I learned that Blake Payne recently was the first recipient of the Jesse Haviland Memorial 4H Continued Education Scholarship to help him as he goes to Dabney Lancaster; the late Jesse was my great-nephew and the scholarship is one of several set up in his memory after his tragic death in 2020. Jesse was part of the FFA Forestry team and competed with them before his death, so it is fitting that Blake received the scholarship.
And a final personal note; when I was assistant principal at Strasburg High School, one of the young leaders in the FFA chapter there was Jaclyn Roller, who later became an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Signal Knob Middle School. Jaclyn Roller Ryan received the Virginia State Teacher of the Year in 2014, and invited me to be there for the ceremony! I am so proud of how well girls have done in the fifty plus years that they have been FFA members and leaders, and how well the guys have worked with them!