FFA Finds Its Way But At What Cost?


After decades of Big Ag financial underwriting, the venerable FFA — the agriculture-based program for youth formerly known as the Future Farmers of America — is finding its way as never before.

But may be losing its soul.

Chartered nationally by Congress in 1928, the once male-only FFA today claims nearly 350,000 members ages twelve-to-twenty-one, and alumni of nearly a quarter million.

These rising numbers indicate an FFA renaissance of sorts, due in no small part to the organization’s willingness to adapt its training and practices to include the business, research and technological components of agriculture in the 21st century.

Taken on its surface, this is good news for a planet confronted with rising population, climate change and disparate allocation of resources. Surely an entity supplying such a world with a steady stream of young minds attuned to this new reality is a blessing.

But as outlined in a November 2016 article written by Sarah Baird and posted on takepart.com, the blessing is mixed; for most of the increased funding and state-of-the-art programs driving FFA’s revitalization come from the deep coffers of perennial polluters the likes of Monsanto, Dow and DuPont. (Citing directly from FFA’s 2015 annual report, Baird notes that 94% of that year’s total budget was underwritten by Big Ag and its multiple subsidiaries.)

Baird next suggests a very public quid pro quo exists between FFA and its corporate benefactors — an indication of just how comfortable FFA has become with its symbiotic pact with traditional farming: “And the ties go beyond financial support. In 2014, Brett Begemann, the president of Monsanto, was the keynote speaker at the National FFA Convention. [And] when FFA decided to move and expand its national office in 1998, the land for the new building was given to them by Dow Chemical. The headquarters are smack-dab behind a shopping center built on what is assuredly former farmland.”

The payoff for some state FFA associations and local chapters is as obvious as the first-class surroundings and resources at their disposal: Although economically and geographically stratified, the chapters receiving donors’ top dollars enjoy an amazing array of opportunities for leadership and lucrative careers, often combined with a cultivated sense of community and purpose.

And the payoff for the corporate donors? 1. Having a hand in designating and interpreting research; 2. Marginalizing the influx of organic products and techniques, and; 3. Proliferating the use of genetically engineered crops, which rely heavily upon chemicals to produce maximum yields.

There can be no debate over the collateral good corporate sponsorship has created for the millions of American youths FFA has served over the years. The organization’s innovative programming in urban settings is a model for bringing agriculture alive across culture, ethnicity and gender. And the bonds FFA facilitates among our young can last a lifetime.

But none of these good things can obscure the plain reality that FFA has entered a devil’s deal with a monolithic, politically potent industry, bent on self-survival despite the cost to the food supply and planet. Somewhere along the way FFA found a new place in the world. But at what cost?

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Blacksburg, Va. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2017


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