July 2008
The Business of Farming

Previous Sentinel articles expounded upon FFA history, SAE and proficiency awards, the FFA creed and the history of the FFA jacket. George Santayana is credited as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Having always been interested in history, I enjoy visiting historical places and “reliving the past” whenever possible, especially as it relates to agriculture and FFA. How interesting it would be for us to go back in time, as Scott Bukula did in Quantum Leap or Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, and experience agriculture and FFA activities as our forefathers did, but only for a visit!

The forerunner to The Alabama FFA Reporter was The Alabama Future Farmer and in the archives of the Alabama FFA Association are copies of The Alabama Future Farmer. Dating back to 1930, Alabama FFA history has been preserved for generations to come.

Clifford Manning, state reporter in 1933-34, who was from the Maplesville Chapter (Chilton County), wrote in the April 1934 edition of The Alabama Future Farmer: “Are Future Farmers slackers? No, we are the ones to go forward and improve the great, young organization of Future Farmers of America. To upbuild, be thrifty, and train leaders are some of our aims.

“To see if we are progressing any and to see if our advisers are still running our organization, the following was taken from the November 1931 news letter for your comparison.” (The subsequent ten sentences refer to the 1930 State Program of Work.)

“To have at least eighty active chapters by the end of 1930. To hold the state annual convention at Auburn, July 1931. To issue charters to local chapters. To promote thrift programs in forty local chapters. To sponsor father and son banquets. To promote a publicity program in local chapters. To establish a permanent camp for the FFA. To have each chapter set up a program of work. To send three delegates to the National Convention. To have each chapter represented at the Annual State Convention. To confer the degree of State Farmer upon at least ten members.”

Manning continued in his article, “There have been many changes in the state organization since the beginning. The organization is young, and we still have to handle it carefully. In order that we as state officers may carry on and improve the organization, each member in the State will have to do his part, because the drops make the ocean.”

For a member to earn the State Farmer Degree, now known as the State FFA Degree, in the 1930s, he had to: earn and deposit in a bank or have productively invested of at least $100 in his supervised agricultural experience project; at least two years of systematic instruction in vocational agriculture with an outstanding supervised practiced program in operation; be familiar with parliamentary procedure by having held office in the local chapter or by having passed a satisfactory test in parliamentary procedure; be able to hold a group discussion for forty minutes; show marked attainment in scholarship in all school subjects (average grade 85 or above the semester preceding the election); and possess qualities of leadership as shown by having held responsible positions in connection with student chapter activities.

Today, many of the above requirements for obtaining the State FFA Degree are similar. However, members seeking the State Farmer Degree in 1934 had to master seven out of the following ten objectives from an occupational test.

“Field select seed corn. Mix Auburn maximum for use, and work formula. (If anyone knows what this is please let us know.) Test milk for butter fat. Cull chickens. Treat trees for borers. Prune trees. Treat barrel of corn or peas for weevils. Set up and explain the use of a terrace level. Cut door-steps. Sharpen hand-saw.” How times and agricultural practices have changed!

In the summer of 1935, FFA and FHA members pledged to raise $10,000 for Alabama’s crippled children. Quotas of $80 were accepted by each of the combined organizations in schools where the two types of programs existed. (These were schools having both FFA and FHA chapters.) Forty-one schools raised more than their quota; 14 schools raised their exact quota; only 23 schools did not participate. “Those clubs in the last-named group would have participated except for conditions over which they had no control,” said the April 1936 Alabama Future Farmer. On March 19, 1936 Annie Moon, state FHA president from Ashland, and A.C. Allen, Jr., state FFA president from Holtville, presented Dr. J.A. Keller, state superintendent of education with a check for $7,366.41. The donation adjusted for inflation would equal $104,602.49 in 2007 dollars!

There were 136 Chapters in the Alabama FFA Association in 1936 with a total of 3,400 members. Each chapter was required to send in $2 as voted at the 1935 State Convention for expenses related to the state convention. This convention fee modified for inflation would equal $30, the same fee a chapter paid at the 2007 state convention.

Another interesting bit of our early history is Alabama native Dr. Harvey Owen (H.O.) Sargent. Sargent was the federal agent for agricultural education for African Americans, U.S. Office of Education, Washington, D.C. Sargent, who was responsible for the inception of the New Farmers of America, believed the time was ripe for an organization of African American agricultural students similar to the Future Farmers of Virginia.

Just as the Future Farmers of Virginia led to a national organization called the Future Farmers of America, Sargent dreamed the New Farmers of Virginia would lead to a national organization for African American students called the New Farmers of America. By 1928, several Southern states had set up local chapters and state associations. At this stage of development, each state maintained a separate and distinct organization.

Because of his devotion to Alabama, Dr. Sargent made arrangements to hold the first meeting of the New Farmers of America at Tuskegee Institute in 1935. In August of the same year, representatives from all the Southern Associations met and formed the National Organization of New Farmers of American with a constitution and bylaws. David Simmons of Alabama was elected the first national president of the New Farmers of America.

Dr. Sargent graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University in 1901. “He taught at Hamilton 12 years as principal of the agricultural school where his work attracted the attention of both state and federal officials. For several years, he sent more young men to Auburn than any other principal in the state,” said the February 1936 issue of The Alabama Future Farmer. He died unexpectedly in early February 1936 at the age of 60.

In 1996, the National FFA Organization established the H.O. Sargent Awards, which are presented to both FFA members and non-FFA members who have achieved and promoted diversity in FFA and agricultural education. An enduring legacy for a caucasian man who believed all young men deserved instruction in every facet of agriculture.

The history of FFA in Alabama has been preserved. We owe a debt of gratitude to the individuals who had the foresight to save the details of our history and played an active role in setting examples for us to follow.

Philip Paramore is an Education Specialist with the Alabama Department of Education.