Like a proud papa, Indiana FFA Executive Director Steve Hickey can’t stop gushing about the Indiana FFA Association. And brag he should. Indiana FFA has cultivated leaders in all areas of agriculture, including at the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA). Hickey cites ISDA Director Ted McKinney and Deputy Director Melissa Rekeweg – both former FFA state officers – as examples of the organization’s reach.
“Between being a teacher and now executive director for Indiana, I’ve been involved in agriculture education and FFA for 37 years. I am completely convinced there is not an organization that will do for young people what FFA will do in terms of the leadership skills they will develop and the background in the agriculture industry they will receive,” Hickey says.
At Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood, FFA members and landscape management students are immersed in production horticulture. Students grow and sell bedding plants and seasonal favorites, such as mums and poinsettias, as well as herbs and vegetables. Students are also responsible for maintenance of the school’s lawns and flowerbeds. FFA advisor and landscape management teacher Joe Ramey says FFA is readying his students for the job market.
“Most students are focused on careers in the green industry – lawn care, landscaping,” Ramey says. “Students go on to own their own landscaping businesses, greenhouses and floral shops. A few will go into the fruit and vegetable area of production agriculture.”
In the process, Ramey and the FFA members are educating other students about the importance of agriculture.
“With the growing population of students not coming from an agriculture background, this allows them the opportunity to see how their food is grown – how it gets from the ground to their plates,” he says.
Hickey says it’s only natural for FFA members to become ambassadors of agriculture.
“It’s going to take great leaders in the agriculture industry to continue to move us forward, and meet the needs of both the country and the world. I don’t believe there is a better training ground available than what we have in FFA,” he says.
Ramey agrees. “That’s one of the big benefits of FFA. It develops their leadership skills and individuality. It lets them see how they can have success in the many facets of agriculture.”
Another benefit is the positive image FFA membership evokes in the community.
“When my students apply for positions in our local community and surrounding areas, when they put on the application that they have been or are an FFA member, that seems to move them up the ladder for positions within the company,” Ramey says. “Businesses around this community view FFA as an organization that develops leaders.”
However, despite Indiana FFA’s rapid growth in the last few years – membership has increased from 9,200 to nearly 11,000 in four years – the organization still faces the significant challenge of recruiting qualified and committed agriculture teachers like Ramey. Fortunately, Hickey says, the FFA is not facing those challenges alone.
As a department within the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana FFA is privy to ISDA resources and expertise.
Indiana is only one of two states in the country that houses FFA inside its Department of Agriculture.
“I’ll tell you, we’re fortunate because that’s exactly where we belong,” Hickey says. “ISDA continues to be one of the greatest things that has ever happened to Indiana FFA. They treat us like gold, and in all honesty, our kids make them look good too,” Hickey says. “[The relationship] has also allowed the ISDA to affect an area of agriculture in Indiana that they really hadn’t been able to affect before – the youth.”