When it comes to agriculture education, state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said it’s one of the most important things a student can learn.
And one of the best programs, he said, is FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America.
FFA is a national organization and youth development program that provides agriculture-based learning, hands-on trade work and leadership training for high school students.
“We know that the world needs what we have — time management, skill sets and the ability to work effectively, to be respectful and to be civil, and all those things comes in part of the blue jacket,” Redding said.
A blue corduroy jacket with an FFA logo is the uniform for organization members.
“We also know there are two amazingly important words in the FFA creed — ‘I believe,’ ” he said. “We know those two words have made a difference in many lives.”
Redding was the guest speaker Wednesday night at the 88th annual Pennsylvania FFA State Convention, which welcomed FFA members and advisers from across the commonwealth.
The three-day event hosted at Penn State allowed students to participate in workshops, meet industry leaders and more.
But much of it, Redding said, was to help promote the organization and agriculture education.
“The FFA convention sort of reminds us of a lot of things, but particularly the diversity of agriculture in the state and diversity of the program from inner-city high schools in Philadelphia to Centre County,” he said. “All of that still represent agriculture. The importance here is that it’s one of the few programs that combines classroom instruction with leadership in the community, and career development though exploration.”
At the state level, Redding said leaders help enforce ag programs that help fund and encourage advisers to be certified and trained appropriately.
“We certainly want to make sure we’re supporting them, getting them certified and making that a high priority so what you see today can help shape the future,” he said.
Redding said one enhancement in ag education that he hopes to see is greater involvement from kids.
“The other piece that I think is important as well is enhancing these programs in (kindergarten) to eighth grade, and with Farm to School initiatives (and) biology programs because they are equally as important, so agriculture students can explore from within and also what you’re looking at is building leadership,” he said. “What this is — you can get formal classroom eduction and you might be able to get some of the (exploratory) learning, but through this you also get leadership and citizenship.”