NEW CASTLE, Pa. — The students in the Mohawk School District’s FFA program are proud of their blue and gold and they aren’t afraid to show it.
The group has approximately 40 active members and their interests are diverse. Some raise lambs, some hogs, some steers, goats and horses. And then there are some who shy away from the livestock and go for the power stuff, learning mechanics and working on small motors. Others focus on landscaping.
When FFA first began, it was called the Future Farmers of America, an organization of only boys who were going to be farmers. Today, it is a national organization with nearly 8,000 men and women in Pennsylvania. It is a group that encourages hands-on skills in horticulture, mechanics, construction, business and leadership skills.
The whole idea of FFA is to educate students and that’s what the Mohawk FFA is doing.
Each of the students has a story to tell about why they are involved in FFA. One student even pays tuition to attend the district so he can learn about repairing antique tractors through the program. Most have a connection to agriculture, but some don’t live on a farm. However, they feel lucky their school district is still offering the program.
Senior Abbey Benninghoff has been involved in the program throughout high school and wouldn’t have changed the experience. She added that she is involved in high school rodeo competition and has gained many friends, but the one thing she can brag about — that some can’t now that fewer and fewer schools are offering it — is her FFA chapter.
FFA’er Tyler Claypool explained how his experience has helped him develop into his own person.
“When you put that jacket on, there is a lot of pride that goes into it,” he said.
The students are busy throughout the year with different activities, supervised projects, and their record books.
In October, the group helps with Ag Encounter, where fourth graders throughout the county get to learn about swine and sheep through special exhibits at the county fairgrounds. A contest is also held that month for forestry and ornamental landscaping, land judging, dairy judging, horse, agronomy and ag mechanics.
The students also get the chance to travel to the national convention Oct. 22-24.
In November the group holds a semi-annual sausage sale. The students get to learn, from beginning to end, how sausage is made and dealing with customers.
And in January, group travels to the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg for three days, which includes the state FFA convention and awards presentations.
The FFA is very active at the Pa. Farm Show every year. This year, the group presented two square dance teams and both earned blue ribbons.
In addition, the group made a demonstration of how to make cheese in your home, placing fifth out of more than 20 teams at the competition. The students made soft curd and mozzarella cheese on stage from one gallon of milk.
In February, the group celebrates FFA week and members have the opportunity to meet with a state officer.
Then in March, a second sausage sale is held, along with public speaking and parliamentary procedure contest.
In April, another contest is held at the Lawrence County fairgrounds where the repair of small gas engines, dairy foods, meat, floriculture, wildlife and livestock judging all takes place.
In May, an awards banquet is held where scholarships are awarded to some students going on to post-secondary school and Penn State FFA week is held in June.
This year, Kelli Fox was Mohawk’s winner of the Keystone Degree winner at the Pa. Farm Show. She has kept records on the family farm, Glad Run Miniature Horse Farm. She documented her care, training and showing of numerous miniature horses during the past several years.
To be eligible for the Keystone, or state FFA, degree a participant must earn or invest over $1,000 or work over 600 hours and have had an active FFA leadership program.
This year, nearly 300 members earned the degree in Pennsylvania.
The students at Mohawk had one answer when asked what the biggest lesson they have learned as a result of FFA. And surprisingly, it was one word, but so important — teamwork.
As they spread out across the table, they agreed without teamwork, many of their activities would be impossible and it is a skill they use in other parts of their life.
The group also agreed the opportunities, competition and networking are all important facets of the FFA.
FFA Adviser Cliff Wallace agreed that the opportunities, competition and fun are what keeps the chapter going.
“If they aren’t having fun, then we won’t have members,” Wallace said.
However, one area he said they forget about is the confidence the members build during their time in the chapter, which helps them develop in their career paths.
Wallace said one area the group is different from other schools programs and even FFA programs across the state is that the group is tight knit.
The FFA program at Mohawk is full of pride inside and out. They include all the members in activities and many can be found together outside of the school building.