This year, Future Farmers of America, now known as the National FFA Organization, celebrates its 75th anniversary. As a tribute, the organization kicked off a yearlong celebration of its past, present, and future, at their annual convention in November. Many veterinarians share a part in this history.
"There are things we use on a day-to-day basis at the clinic that we started learning in high school FFA," said Dr. Chad Kerr, speaking of himself and his brother, Dr. Brock Kerr. Both were active in FFA as youths, and both are now veterinarians at Dodge City Veterinary Clinic in Dodge City, Kan. Dr. Chad Kerr says the organization helped him tremendously with public speaking, working with people, and client relationships, as well as teaching him the value of community service.
The organization's mission is to help students, ages 12 to 21, develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agriculture education. Programs and activities help members develop public speaking skills, conduct and participate in meetings, manage financial matters, strengthen problem-solving abilities, and assume civic responsibility. "I think it grooms you to be a more complete person," Dr. Kerr continued.
Operating on local, state, and national levels, the organization, which is somewhat similar to Boy Scouts, has 457,278 members in 7,312 chapters representing 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Individuals earn "degrees" that recognize their increasing accomplishments. And students can participate in competitions and award programs in areas, such as agricultural science or commodity marketing. Community service programs provide volunteer opportunities through which students can contribute to society.
Students are members of chapters organized at the local school level, with agricultural educational instructors serving as chapter advisers. States conduct programs and host annual conventions. And the National FFA Organization charters state associations; provides direction, programmatic materials, and support; and hosts the National FFA Convention, which draws more than 45,000 each November.
The organization changed its name from Future Farmers of America to the National FFA Organization in 1988, because it recognized that the field of agriculture had grown to encompass a wider variety of careers—more than 300 in the science, business, and technology of agriculture.
Dr. Shantila Rexroat, co-owner of Adair County Animal Hospital in Columbia, Ky., was also involved with FFA as a youth. She says her experience with FFA solidified her desire to pursue veterinary medicine. "I got a lot out of it the one year that I was in it, and I wished that I had been involved even more," Dr. Rexroat said.
Her sister, Dr. Shannon Campbell, the other co-owner of Adair County Animal Hospital, also says her time in FFA was "highly valuable," because it exposed her to other people and their ways of farming and handling their animals. "It broadened my view of what I would be doing as a veterinarian," she said.
Some veterinarians who benefited from the FFA as youngsters are now participating as adults. Dr. Rexroat is currently helping a student in her clinic as part of the FFA's supervised agricultural experience program, whereas both Drs. Kerr help out with their local FFA chapters.
And as the organization turns 75, that is one thing—the desire of some former members to give back—that the organization can feel good about and hopes will continue.
"We both feel like we have quite a lot to give back," Dr. Chad Kerr said. "When the kids come in, I flat-out tell them that they are not going to be involved in anything else in high school that is going to affect them the rest of their life ... like FFA."