Not Enough Teachers to Catch Up

Future Farmers of America

The FFA Motto:  Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, and Living to Serve.

BY NAOMI INMAN

When you think of the Oregon FFA Association (OFFA), three words come to mind: Future Farmers of America. Yet oddly enough, some of us still find our thoughts going back in time—picturing a sandy-haired farmer’s daughter in a soils competition, or the broad shouldered son of a rancher entering a livestock contest.

“Today’s FFA members rarely come from a farm or ranching background. Our kids are all about the FUTURE part of FFA,” says Kevin White, Executive Director of the Oregon FFA Foundation, tasked with raising funds for programming and scholarships for members who want to become ag-science teachers.

“The diversity of membership is huge! And our membership is exploding—we’ve added 1,000 members in the last few years.”

“The growth is amazing!” says Lee Letsch, Executive Secretary of the OFFA, from her office in the historic Ag Strand Hall on the OSU campus.  Letsch directs and administrates the statewide programs for nearly 6,000 Oregon FFA members in 105 high-school chapters. “Growth is a good problem to have, but we have a big teacher shortage, and we are eager to add more programming.”

OFFA is an intra-curriculum program, meaning chapters can’t happen without an ag science teacher in a high school.  And ag educators are hard to come by. In June, OSU graduated nine certified ag teachers (Masters in Ag Education), and incidentally, there are nine vacancies in Oregon high schools.  That means no new high school chapters at a time when student demand is high and future opportunities are promising for young agriculturalists from all walks of life.

“Those opportunities are endless,” says Letsch.  In the month of May alone, OFFA hosted nine career development events.  FFA members become shining stars and leaders in their communities.  They excel in public speaking, participate in dozens of leadership camps, address issues in agriculture and the management of natural resources, and compete in dozens of categories from science and research to sales and marketing.

Future Farmers of AmericaOregon students want to know how their food and fiber are produced and want to be a part of it.  Agriculture is relevant to an expansive field of technology. Aside from the production and livestock aspects of ag-sciences, students whose aptitudes follow bio-research, engineering, computer, science, and even drone technology—are increasingly attracted to Oregon FFA chapters.

Lee Letsch herself is an upshot of Oregon FFA.  She came to “intern” at the office while attending OSU as an ag major and former FFA chapter president (Dallas, OR).  That was 14 years ago.  She is a one-woman beehive of activity, mentoring six state officers each year and bursting at the seams with passion for OFFA. She never stops talking about opportunity.  “The opportunities for growth, the opportunities for our members, the opportunities for students, are endless.  Scholarships.  Internships.  Careers.  It’s growing all the time as technology advances.”

Learn more about individual students and opportunities at OregonFFA.com.