When the Rehobeth High School FFA decided to help their community, they thought big.
“We realized we had a problem with hunger in our area, and we wanted to do something about it,” says Brad Willis, Rehobeth High School FFA adviser. “The problem was we didn’t have any equipment or any place to do it.”
They didn’t let a few details stop them.
“It just seemed like the more we pursued this, the more doors opened up,” Willis says. “We got a farm on school property with the capacity to grow 5 acres of produce, and we got some equipment donated.”
His FFA students went to work planting 20,000 plants – tomatoes, watermelon, sweet corn, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, cantaloupe and okra – in a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse. They sold some to the public to help fund the entire project, students took half the plants and the rest they transplanted into the farmland.
Everything harvested was donated to Love in Action, a not-for- profit that feeds the homeless in downtown Dothan.
“The best part of the project was what the students learned,” Willis says. “They learned you don’t take your food for granted, and they are blessed to have food readily available. Those are real life lessons. And they also learned a whole lot about how to raise produce.”
FFA in Alabama is undergoing something of a resurgence.
“Our numbers are up this past year in terms of students,” says Jacob Davis, education specialist/ state FFA advisor with the Alabama Department of Education. “We’re not back to our heyday of 20,000 students but we had 13,900 last year.”
Curriculum requirements hindered participation for a few years, as students needed other courses to qualify for college. But that is changing to include agriculture courses, Davis says.
“You’re seeing increased flexibility for students to take elective courses like agriculture, and hopefully that’s going to continue to grow our programs,” he said.
His main need is for more agriculture teachers.
“We have five shortages yet to be filled this year,” he says. “That’s our biggest challenge.”
He’s convinced agriculture programs like FFA help students develop everything from leadership skills to teamwork, how to get along with others and responsibility. The programs also give students recognition for achievements.
When an FFA chapter like Rehobeth learns about feeding the hungry, Davis says the program has new meaning.
“Several chapters are doing things that partner with hunger initiatives,” he says. “We had an event at the state FFA convention where we packed 42,000 meals for the Montgomery Area Food Bank. FFA members put together prepackaged dried meals of rice and other things that could be reheated. Those kind of things teach a student so much. We’re all about that.”