“F” is for Florida, Part 1 (10/20/2023)

It will soon be time for the northern Snow Birds to head to Florida. However, we might beat them there with this Footnote as we continue on our alphabetical visit to the states.

Florida was the 31st state to affiliate with the National FFA in 1929. Click here to see their application. In 2020-21 Florida had 393 FFA chapters and 20,431 members. The forward found in the Florida application for a charter is interesting. It reads:

The agricultural instructors of Florida. at their annual conference at Gainesville, in August, 1927, voted to sponsor a State organization for students of vocational. agriculture. It is only natural that boys studying vocational agriculture in Florida should band together and perfect some sort of organization in order that they may exchange experiences, make social contacts, “talk shop” that would mean very little to non-vocational students, market their products and further the interests of the group. Students in various high schools in Florida and other states have already formed organizations. The idea has become very popular in some sections, and why not? High school students who have rather definitely chosen agriculture as their vocation, who are regularly enrolled in vocational agriculture, who spend one-half of each school day together in class or shop and who are carrying out a program of supervised practice at home– boys such as these have a sufficient common ground of interest to effect a good, permanent organization.

This forward pretty much sums up the thinking of agricultural educators in 1927 regarding the FFA. And the last sentence about a “permanent organization” has been proven to be a reality.

Founding of the Future Farmers of Florida

The Orlando Sentinel announced the incorporation of the Future Farmers of Florida in 1928 (See Figure 1). The article was published prior to the founding of the Future Farmers of America.

The wording in the article states that “any student” enrolled in vocational agriculture is entitled to be an active member. So I wonder if females were allowed to be members of the Future Farmers of Florida in the early days since the wording says any student.

The article also states that the organization will not own any real estate valued at more than $5,000. I wonder if this was ever changed since the Florida FFA Leadership Center at Haines City, Florida is worth considerably more than that. However the Florida FFA Foundation owns it, so perhaps that is the answer. Next week’s Footnote will focus on the Florida FFA Leadership Center.

 Figure 1. The Orlando Sentinel, September 30, 1928

Veterans Farm Training

Once upon a time agriculture teachers were expected to teach classes for veterans. Agriculture teachers have taught classes for veterans of World War II, the Korean conflict, and Vietnam. I know this because of my research and the fact that I actually supervised a student teacher who was teaching a class of Vietnam vets early in my teacher education career. All of the vets were older than the student teacher, so that was an interesting experience.

Agriculture teachers in Florida, like teachers across the country, taught veteran classes. Sometimes, special agriculture teachers were hired to teach only veteran classes. The two articles below look at veteran agriculture programs in Florida.

 Figure 2. Left article from The Stuart News, April 29, 1948.
Right article from The Tampa Tribune, November 15, 1953

FFA for All

During my tenure as a high school agricultural teacher back in the 1970s I taught a special group of students every Friday for one hour. This was back in the day when “special needs” students were taught in self-contained classrooms. The special education teacher asked if I would be willing to teach some basic life skills to her students on Friday during my planning period. I agreed to do so and enjoyed the experience.

So, when I found an article in The Tampa Tribune about some agriculture teachers teaching leadership skills to mentally handicapped students, it caught my attention. The article described a two day retreat for FFA members who were officers in the FFA chapters at three centers for the trainable mentally handicapped (See Figure 3). The bottom line is that all types of students should be in the FFA and can benefit from the experience.

 Figure 3. The Tampa Tribune, October 21, 1985

The Computer Whiz

We use computers daily and never think about it. However forty years ago computers were something of a novelty and people were just starting to learn about them. To encourage FFA members to learn about computers the National FFA introduced a “Computers in Agriculture” competition in 1983. In 1986 Christopher Tomkins, a FFA member of the Brandon FFA Chapter in Riverview, Florida was the 1st runner-up in the national competition. Christopher later served as vice-president of his FFA chapter. See Figure 4 for an article about Christopher.

 Figure 4. The Tampa Tribune, February 17, 1986

New Farmers of America Pig Chain

During the 1950s livestock chains were popular in vocational agriculture programs. If you are not familiar with livestock chains you might want to visit the Friday Footnote for 5/3/2019. The most popular livestock species for the chains were pigs. Sears Roebuck was a major sponsor of the pig chains, but for the New Farmers of America (NFA) in Florida, the Florida State Chamber of Commerce sponsored the pig chain. Figure 5 contains information about the NFA pig chains.

Figure 5. The Tampa Tribune, September 7, 1958

What is Sideline Farming?

I learned a new term when I read the article titled “A Flexible Ag Program” in The Tampa Tribune (10/4/1959, see Figure 6). The article describes “a problem for vocational agriculture teachers.” The problem was rural boys marching off to cities while city folks moved to the suburbs. So what was the solution to this problem? The article (p. 66) states:

It has required them [the vocational agriculture teachers] to alter traditional teaching programs somewhat in order to stress sideline farming, animal husbandry and fruit cultivation.”

The new term I learned was ”sideline farming.” Sideline farming is basically part-time farming. The article then describes how the East Bay High School agriculture program had diversified to meet the needs of the community. While preparing farmers was still the primary mission of most agricultural education programs in 1959, this school “soft pedals the full-time farm operation.” The school principal was quoted as saying “Agriculture needs have changed and are still changing in this area.”

Reading this article was refreshing. Back in the 1940s H. M. Hamlin of Illinois was a big advocate for community schools. Basically the agriculture program should reflect the needs of the community. He said “The pubic schools have been ‘schools in communities,’ not ‘community schools.’” With many states adopting standardized curricula for all agriculture courses, the needs of the community may have taken a back seat.

Four years after this article was written, the passage of the Vocational Education Act of 1963 officially broadened the scope of agricultural education to be more than just farming. It appears the East Bay High School was ahead of its time in realizing that agricultural education needed to change.

Figure 6. The Tampa Tribune, October 4, 1959. Not all of the article is reproduced here.
The original article contained more information, had six photos, and took up an entire page in the paper.

Concluding Remarks

It is always a challenge to write about the agricultural education program in a state when you limit yourself to 4-6 newspapers articles. It is sort of like an appetizer at a fancy restaurant. There is so much more on the menu. But agriculture teachers are busy and don’t want to read longer epistles. So what you get is just a limited sampling of stories that I think might be of interest and possibly benefit the reader.

As I was working on this Footnote, I kept running across articles about the Florida FFA Leadership Training Center. It was sort of like reading a “who done it” novel. Numerous articles focused on fund raising activities of FFA chapters to pay for the center. Then I discovered an arsonist. Wow! Part 2 of the Florida story is going to focus on the Florida FFA Center. So stay tuned.