School Ag programs show growing interest in farming

May 1 2012 - 1:26pm

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ANDERSON, S.C. -- Caroline Davis, 17, toyed with the idea of being a nurse or a teacher when she was younger.

But now she's settled on working with cattle since she's enrolled in agriculture classes in high school. She said she plans to study veterinary medicine and embryology in college, and eventually wants, along with her brother, to take over her grandfather's farm.

"We've always had cattle on my grandpa's farm. I've always loved the agricultural side of things," Davis said. "Then I got involved in the FFA chapter here at school, and I really got interested in it."

Caroline is not the only one interested in the National FFA Organization these days.

Membership in her school's FFA chapter has increased to more than 200, up from 90 in 2006.

On a national level, the organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, also is experiencing record enrollment. Statistics released in September 2011 show that there were 540,379 students enrolled in FFA chapters, an increase of 17,070 members from one year earlier. The organization has not had this many members in its 84-year history.

Kristy Meyer, a spokeswoman with the National FFA Organization, said the number of members dropped in the 1980s, then began to climb in the last two decades. The 17,070-member increase from 2010 to 2011, however, was a larger spike than usual, Meyer said.

Meyer attributes the increase in agricultural education to a growing awareness that agriculture involves more than farming, and an awareness that it is a growing industry.

There's also some assurance in this tight economy that there are jobs to be had in the agricultural field, which is adding to the industry's attractiveness. More than 300 career fields are part of the agricultural industry.

Clemson University's Agricultural Education program has 100 percent job placement for its graduates each year, even during the recent economic recession.

Jody Martin, an agribusiness expert, said that a student majoring in agriculture-related fields has opportunities in the production of food, fibers, fuels and forestry -- among other things. There are opportunities to apply innovations and technology to the field as well as plenty of opportunities for profit, Martin said. Those two conditions, he said, make the industry more attractive to young people.

"I see more things happening in agriculture and agribusiness than I have ever in my lifetime," Martin said. "It is one of the brightest spots in our economy and has bounced back quicker than anything."

John Parris, director of the South Carolina Agri-News Service in Columbia. said a younger generation is being turned on to farming, gardening and other agricultural fields because there has been an increase in gardens and agricultural programs at grade schools.

Students in agricultural education classes are constantly involved in farming and gardening projects. At the Montessori School of Anderson, S.C., volunteers and students completed a greenhouse on campus. They have planted herbs and vegetables in raised beds inside the greenhouse.

One student, 14-year-old Chase Culpepper, has recently tried to convince Anderson City Council members to pass an ordinance allowing city residents to raise chickens for fresh eggs. He researched the issue and gave the council members a 19-page report in March.

"A lot of people can't afford fresh eggs or things like that," Culpepper said. "But it's healthier if you grow them at home. So once I learn how to raise chickens, I want to start a low-income program and teach others what to do."

Contact Anna Mitchell and Charmaine Smith-Miles of the Anderson Independent-Mail in Anderson, S.C., at Anna.Mitchellindependentmail.com and CAindependentmail.com

 

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