Have you ever heard of the Young Farmers of America (YFA)? The image below is of their emblem (Figure 1). But did they really exist or is this some type of prototype image? In this Friday Footnote, we continue with the theme of “things that once were in the world of agricultural and extension education but don’t exist today”.
Figure 1. YFA emblem from Gary Moore
Young Farmers of America
After World War II ended, thousands of young men returned to the states and either enrolled in college or enrolled in adult farmer classes taught by local agriculture teachers or special instructors as part of the GI Bill (see the Friday Footnotes When Johnny Comes Marching Home and When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Verse 2). Since most of these GIs were young and many were former FFA members, there was discussion about starting a formal organization for these young farmers.
The December 1945 issue of The Agricultural Education Magazine featured a debate between two Ohio agriculture teachers (John Leonard and Ralph Woodin) about whether or not a state association of Young Farmers was needed. Leonard said no and gave the reasons while Woodin argued for a state association.
The Leonard-Woodin debate prompted a teacher in New York (Edward McCauliff) to share his thoughts in an article in the May 1946 Ag Ed Magazine titled “Do We Need a Y.F.A.?” He argued against the idea saying there were already enough other organizations for young farmers.
The debate about forming young farmers associations continued on the pages of The Agricultural Education Magazine in April of 1949. Under the headline “Should Young Farmers Associations be Affiliated?” Sasman (state supervisor in Wisconsin) argued against the idea while Nichols (state supervisor in Utah) promoted the idea. In the same issue of this Magazine, the state supervisor in Arkansas, C. R. Wilkey, wrote an article titled “Young Farmers Associations Ask for National Organization.”
The push for starting a national association gained steam at the end of the 1940s. The desirability of forming regional and national associations of young farmers was discussed at regional conferences and in the Agricultural Education Section of the American Vocational Association in 1948 and 1949 (Ekstrom & McClelland, 1952).
The document Digest of Annual Reports of State Boards for Vocational Education to the Office of Education published in 1949 by the U.S. Office of Education reports (p. 12):
Some states throughout the nation have shown an interest in an organization for young farmers who are enrolled in organized instruction. It has been proposed that this organization be named the Young Farmers of America. Four states have such organizations and have held state conventions. The reports indicate that an effort will be made to organize the national organization during the coming year.
One of the four states that had created a Young Farmers of America state association was South Carolina. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture published an article about the formation of the South Carolina affiliate of the Young Farmers of America in their 1948-49 yearbook. It appears South Carolina wanted to be at the forefront of this new organization. This article declares that SC is the first state east of the Mississippi to have a Young Farmers of America affiliate and that there would be an upcoming national meeting to plan the national organization. See Figure 2.
The 1948-49 annual report of the State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina provided a little more detail. The idea for a statewide young farmer organization emerged at the 1948 summer ag teachers conference. In November of 1948 a state convention of young farmers was held with each local chapter sending two delegates. The result of the meeting was the creation of the South Carolina state association of the Young Farmers of America.
Figure 2. Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture of the State of South Carolina, 1948-49. P. 107
The article above refers to a planning meeting in Washington to plan for the national organization. The planning committee met in June to study the need for a national organization for young farmers. The committee prepared a suggested constitution and bylaws for a state association of Young Farmers of America. The committee recommended that a national meeting of state supervisors and teacher educators be held to discuss the plans.
The recommended national meeting was held in Kansas City in October of 1949. The general consensus at the meeting was that organizing young farmers was desirable and organized instruction in agriculture should be at the core of any such organization. A few tweaks were made to the proposed constitution. The biggest controversy was the upper age limit to be considered a “young farmer.” Even though the discussion was positive, a motion was passed at this national meeting (Ekstrom & McClelland, 1952, p. 337) that “…no further consideration be given, at the present time, to forming a national association of young farmers of America.”
I don’t know the reasoning behind the “no” vote but have an idea. Louis Sasman, state supervisor of agriculture education in Wisconsin, wrote an article titled “What About a Young Farmer Organization” in the October 1949 edition of the Agricultural Leader’s Digest. His opening sentence was a question (Sasman, 1949, p. 28) – “Should there be a national organization of young farmers enrolled in vocational agriculture classes?” After talking about the value of young farmer groups operated by groups such as the Farm Bureau, Grange, and the Farmers’ Union he declared that “Instructors in agriculture and the state supervisors’ offices already have heavier duties than they can satisfactorily perform.” He concluded his article by pointing out that additional instructors are needed to expand the program, more state staff is needed to maintain desirable standards, and more help is needed from the U.S. Office of Education. The gist of his message is our plates are already full. We don’t need to add on more. The points made by Sasman were similar to those he made in the Ag Ed Magazine in April of 1949.
In October of 1952 the U.S. Office of Education conducted a National Young Farmer Leadership Conference in Kansas City. Sixty-three young farmers from 23 states attended along with 40 supervisors, teacher educators, and teachers. The U.S. Office of Education staff responsible for vocational agriculture also attended.
The committee planning the conference was chaired by Mark Nichols, state supervisor for Utah. Four guidelines for the conference were established in advance:
- The focus of the conference is young farmer education.
- Legislation or politics will not be discussed.
- Resolutions about forming a national organization are not to be discussed.
- National officers for the national young farmer group are not to be named at the conference.
It was clear this conference was not about establishing a Young Farmers of America.
I can find no record that the 1949 “no” vote was ever reversed. So, it appears there was never an official Young Farmers of America. However, in Nichol’s 1952 book, Young farmers; their problems, activities, and educational programs, he included a proposed constitution and bylaws for a state association of the Young Farmers of America. A footnote indicates this was sent to all state supervisors of agricultural education by the U.S. Office of Education in 1949.
Two years later, Garris writes in Teaching Vocational Agriculture (1954, p. 293) that “Local chapters and state associations known as ‘Young Farmers of America’ are being formed in many parts of the United States.” If one examines the minutes from the 1952 Young Farmer National Leadership Conference this is verified. Eight states (AR, CA, CO, NV, OH, SC, UT, & VA) and one territory (Hawaii) reported having Young Farmer state level associations. Arkansas and South Carolina had Young Farmers of America as part of their state name. Some of the other states might have also.
Young Farmers of America Artifacts
I have found several references and artifacts where state associations of young farmers identified themselves as being part of the Young Farmers of America. Below are two images of a Young Farmers jacket from Ohio.
Figures 3 and 4. Young Farmer Jacket from Ohio. Photos from Anna Patterson Cresswell. Agriculture teacher, Upper Sandusky High School, Ohio.
The image below (Figure 5) is a close up of the YFA patch that was found on the front of the YFA jacket. David Laatsch, a retired agriculture teacher in Wisconsin, has two Young Farmer patches in his collection of agricultural education memorabilia. He tells me that he once contacted a person in the national FFA office in search of more information about the YFA but that person didn’t have any knowledge of the Young Farmers of America. He purchased the patches in an estate sale in West Virginia
Figure 5. YFA emblem for the front of jackets. Photo from David Laatsch
A document, Agricultural Occupations and Opportunities in West Virginia, published in 1950 by the state of West Virginia lists the responsibilities of the agriculture teacher. One responsibility is to (p. 102) “…serve as local advisors of the Future Farmers of America, and Young Farmers of America, Chapters.”
The jacket, the patches, the mentions in the literature, and the following photo reveal the Young Farmers of America were alive and well in some states, even if there was no national organization.
Figure 6. Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture of the State of South Carolina, 1951-52.
While the national Young Farmers of America never materialized, an agricultural education related young farmer organization did emerge years later. This was the National Young Farmer Educational Association. According to their website:
NYFEA, the National Young Farmer Educational Association, is proud to be an association that educates agricultural leaders. Founded in 1966, It is a leadership development and community service organization focused on young / beginning producers and young agribusiness professionals.
For more information about the NYFEA, please visit their website – http://www.nyfea.org/home.html. They are represented on the National Council for Agricultural Education.
Sometimes I hear agriculture teachers complain that the FFA keeps adding new things to do but doesn’t take anything away. However, this Footnote reveals that there were discussions of adding something new to the Ag teachers portfolio (the Young Farmers of America), but it was decided not to do so. Sometimes the voices of the teachers are heard.
There are some states where Young Farmer Associations affiliated with school-based agricultural education are alive and well. However, in numerous other states, formal young farmer programs have declined or disappeared.
Ekstrom, George & McClelland, John (1952). Adult Education in Vocational Agriculture. The Interstate. Danville, IL.
Garris, E. W. (1954). Teaching Vocational Agriculture. McGraw-Hill, New York.
Federal Security Agency (1952). Report of National Young Farmer Leadership Conference. Misc. Document 3431. Washington, D. C.
Nichols, Mark (1952). Young farmers; their problems, activities, and educational programs. The Interstate, Danville, IL.