Many states had established state FFA camps before the National FFA camp was established. State FFA camps still exist but unfortunately, a number have closed. We welcome Dr. Connors and a couple of his colleagues back as guest editors for this week’s Footnote about state FFA camps. This article is an abbreviated version of a longer article that appeared in the Journal of Agricultural Education in 2010. If you are interested in reading the entire article there is a link to it in the references. Take it away Drs. Connors, Falk, and Epps.
The History of State FFA Camps
James J. Connors, University of Idaho
Jeremy M. Falk, University of Idaho
Rebekah B. Epps, University of Kentucky
In the past few weeks, the Friday Footnotes have looked at chapter FFA camping trips, the recollections of a FFA member about camp in 1945, and the National FFA Camp. This week we will look at State FFA camps across the country.
The history of organized camping in agricultural education goes back to the very beginning of secondary vocational agriculture and the Future Farmers of America. The state of Tennessee is given credit as establishing the first state FFA camp in the country. The following quote appeared in both an article titled Twenty Years of FFA (Farrar, 1948) and the FFA at 25 history book (Farrar, 1956). Farrar (1956) wrote:
In 1928 the Future Farmers of Tennessee, under the leadership of State Supervisor D. M. Clements, now assistant chief of the Agricultural Service, Office of Education, began work on what probably was the first state FFA camp. Local chapters raised money, some gifts were received, and the legislature authorized use of state funds for developing and maintaining the camp. ‘Camp Clements,’ as it was named in 1934, still is one of the finest FFA camps in the nation. (p. 15)
Much credit has been given to State Supervisor of Agricultural Education, D.M. Clements of Tennessee for championing the benefits of FFA camps. In 1933, Floyd wrote,
“The F.F.A. chapters in Oklahoma owe a debt of gratitude to State Supervisor, D.M. Clements of Tennessee. In February 1928, he wrote ‘My Dream for the Future Farmers of Tennessee’ in which he pictured a beautiful F.F.A. camp down on the Caney Fork River. This dream was so inspiring that we in Oklahoma dreamed of the same thing down on our beautiful Illinois River. That little spark touched things off. (p. 191)
Figure 1. Who doesn’t like to swim? The Camp Clements (TN) swimming pool in the mid-1960s. Photo from Steven Gass.
South Carolina was another state that started to develop a state FFA camp shortly after the founding of the FFA (FFA and NFA Camps Established, 2002). According to Phil Fravel, teacher educator at Clemson, “At one time or another, as many as six different FFA camps operated in the various geographic regions of the state to serve Future Farmers and New Farmers of America (NFA).” Local Rotary Clubs donated 50 acres of land in the mountains of Oconee County in 1928 for Camp Tamassee, the first South Carolina FFA camp (Keels, 2002). In 1936, a second FFA camp was established in the Atlantic coast near Bluffton. During the 1950s, the two FFA camps were sold and a new camp in North Myrtle Beach was purchased for Cherry Grove Camp.
Figure 2. This 1937-38 FFA Camp card entitled the bearer to use any FFA Camp in South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Phil Fravel.
The idea for permanent state FFA camps probably stemmed from the many camping trips that local FFA chapters were organizing. With the noted benefits of camping trips for FFA boys, there was a new desire for establishing more permanent state FFA camps. Peters (1934), in an article about the Vermont FFA camp wrote, “A summer F.F.A. camp without any established state camp is a problem that our chapter solved last summer by establishing a camp of its own” (p. 191).
The decade of the 1930s saw an explosion of new state FFA camps. State FFA Camps were reportedly held in Arkansas (Smith, 1933), New Jersey (New Jersey F.F.A. Summer Camp, 1934), Wyoming (Wyoming F.F.A. Summer Camp, 1935), and New Hampshire (Summer Camp Activities, 1936). In an article about the North Carolina camp, Thomas and Osteen (1937) wrote, “The Young Tar Heel Farmer Camp is a feature of the state organization…It is owned by the state organization and is for the purpose of offering a week’s outing each summer by every chapter electing to do so” (p. 176). The North Dakota FFA camp was unique in that it was held in conjunction with the Northwest State Fair in Minot, ND (North Dakota Sets Up Summer Camp, 1937).
Figure 3. FFA Camp – North Carolina. At times there is a friendly debate between North Carolina and Tennessee about which state “really” had the first FFA Camp. There was once an FFA camp in the NC mountains but it was sold years ago.
Figure 4. The FFA-FHA (FCCLA) Camp in Virginia no longer exists. It and the NFA camp were sold some years ago and the proceeds were invested. Today, scholarships are provided to the kids that attend the current camping program which is at a rented facility – Graves Mountain Lodge. Image from Phil Fravel.
Figure 5. Ohio FFA Camp Muskingum. Morning flag raising. The hardy campers would rise at 6 am for the Polar Bear swim in the lake.
The camp was once a CCC camp. Image courtesy of Phil Fravel.
At the same time that camps were being established for FFA members, similar camps were being created for African-American boys who were members of the New Farmers of America. During the 1930s, several African-American leaders in South Carolina worked together to establish Camp Orangeburg, for African-American NFA members (FFA and NFA camps established, 2002). Tabor (1947) wrote that, “The opening of Camp John Hope in June 1938, gave the first opportunity for state camping to the New Farmers of America in Georgia” (p. 156). Tabor went on to describe in detail the history of Camp John Hope when he wrote:
The progress of building Camp John Hope was long and tedious, but the promotion of the work by many Georgia citizens, who saw the importance of making available to Negro young people a wholesome, active summer environment, is inspiring as to what can be accomplished by ardent supporters of a project to promote the growth and welfare of modern youth. (p. 156)
Separate NFA camps were still operated in some southern states until the FFA and NFA merged in 1965. W.T. Johnson, NFA Executive Secretary in North Carolina, wrote, “The camping program at the S. B. Simmons Memorial Camp (New Farmers of America) is no different from that of other camps. The major objective is to give each camper a true sense of values and awaken in him a desire to develop into a fine person” (Johnson, 1962, p. 248).
Figure 6. An article about the NFA Camp in North Carolina. Image from the Archives and Special Collections, F. D. Bluford Library, North Carolina A&T State University.
A survey of Future Farmers camps and camping conducted by Higgins (1940) reported that, “Eight states reported camp ownership. These are: Arkansas, 30 acres; South Carolina, 50 acres; Tennessee, 30 acres; Oklahoma, 120 acres; North Carolina, eight acres; Louisiana, 42.79 acres; Kentucky, 100 acres; and Georgia, 150 acres” (p. 54).
FFA camps are still a major component of programming for many state FFA associations. A 2008 survey of state FFA leaders found that summer camps are operated by approximately 23 states. These camps are either owned by the state FFA association (20%), state department of education (25%), or another entity such as the state, FFA foundation, or an independent camp board. Even in the 2020s, states are still establishing or re-establishing state camps. In 2019, the Idaho FFA established a one week-long summer camp titled Summer Outdoor Leadership Retreat (SOLR) which is held at a church camp in McCall, ID. Table 1 includes the states and the names of their respective FFA camps.
State FFA association camps
|Arizona FFA Leadership Camp
Florida FFA Leadership Training Center
Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center, Camp John Hope
Summer Outdoor Leadership Retreat (SOLR)
Illinois FFA Leadership Camp
Indiana FFA Leadership Center
Kentucky FFA Leadership Training Center
Louisiana Youth Educational Recreational Center
State Greenhand Leadership Conference
State Leadership Conference for Chapter Leaders
Camp Rising Sun
Montana FFA Alumni Leadership Camp
The Leadership Center
Oswegatchie Educational Center
North Carolina FFA Center
Oklahoma FFA Alumni Leadership Camp
12 Regional Camps
South Carolina FFA Center
2 Regional FFA Leadership Camps
FFA-FCCLA Educational and Recreational Center (this camp has been sold)
Cedar Lakes Conference Center
Wyoming FFA Camp
The long and interesting story of FFA camps goes back to the beginning of vocational agriculture and the Future Farmers of America in 1928. For the past 93 years, state FFA camps have provided thousands of FFA members the opportunity to improve their leadership skills, enjoy recreational activities, make new friends, and create lifelong memories. Based on their strong history, state FFA camps will continue to play a vital role in the future leadership development of countless FFA members.
Connors, J. J., Falk, J. M., & Epps, R. B. (2010). Recounting the legacy: The history and use of FFA camps for leadership and recreation. Journal of Agricultural Education, 51(1), 32-42. https://doi.org/10.5032/jae.2010.01032
Farrar, J. (1948, September). Twenty years of FFA. Better Farming Methods. 14-15, 34-37, 40, 50-51.
Farrar, J. (1956). FFA at 25. Alexandria, VA: Future Farmers of America.
FFA and NFA camps established (2002). AgriBiz! p. 8. Columbia, SC: South Carolina FFA Public Affairs.
Higgins, W. C. (1940, September). A survey of future farmer camps and camping. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 13(3), p. 54-55, 57.
Johnson, W. T. (1962, May). Camping experiences develop leadership. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 39(11), p. 248-249.
Keels, B. (2002). Early FFA and NFA camp history in South Carolina. AgriBiz! p. 8. Columbia, SC: South Carolina FFA Public Affairs.
New Jersey F.F.A. summer camp (1934, September). Agricultural Education, 7(3), p. 47.
North Dakota Sets Up Summer Camp (1937, March). Agricultural Education, 9(9), p. 142.
Peters, J. A. (1934, June). A local F.F.A. camp in Vermont. Agricultural Education, 6(12), p. 191.
Smith, R. B. (September, 1933). Couchdale F.F.A. camp and its functions. Agricultural Education, 6(3), p. 46.
Summer Camp Activities (1936, November). Agricultural Education, 9(5), p. 79.
Tabor, A. (1947, February). Camp John Hope. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 19(8), p. 156-157.
Thomas, R. H. & Osteen, J. M. (1937, May). The tar heel farmer camp. Agricultural Education, 9(11), p. 176.
Wyoming F.F.A. summer camp (1935, July). Agricultural Education, 8(1), p. 16)