The value of vocational agriculture

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Adena FFA
Adena FFA, of Ross County, Ohio. Photo credit: Ivory Harlow.

When I was in high school, vocational agriculture was a semester-long elective course focusing on agricultural production and machinery. The class attracted mostly male students who expected to work on their family farm after high school graduation.

The vocational agriculture classroom looks very different today. Students of all backgrounds, races, and genders participate in voc ag. Students learn horticulture, business and economics, natural resource management, engineering and more. Hands-on instruction supplements classroom learning, encouraging students to explore and experience agriculture in a meaningful way.

Benefits to the agricultural industry

One in seven Ohio jobs is in or related to agriculture — 21.6 million jobs nationally are related to food and ag.² Over the next five years, 60,000 ag-related U.S. jobs are expected annually; in contrast to the 35,000 supply of ag program graduates.³ Vocational agriculture fills the gap by promoting pathways to careers in agriculture and providing young people with practical skills and work ethic necessary for employment.

Vocational agriculture education ensures a supply of talented young agricultural professionals to tackle challenges facing the agricultural industry with energy, understanding and innovative ideas. The result is a strong food system to support the growing world population.

Leadership and belonging

Vocational agricultural education in high schools often includes involvement in the Future Farmers of America (FFA). In addition to career exploration, planning and preparation, FFA teaches students valuable life skills. Personal growth activities help students identify and develop their personal strengths. Members discover their leadership style and learn how to execute leadership through communication, public speaking, and community outreach.

The Future Farmers of America is a place many rural teens find friends and belonging. “Before I joined FFA I had a hard time finding friends in my new high school. I don’t play sports. I’m not in the band. I didn’t feel like I fit in until I joined FFA,” a high school junior shared. “FFA has something for everyone. You can be in FFA whether you’re into mechanics, tech or business.”

Workforce development in agriculture and beyond

Not all vocational agriculture program graduates choose careers in agriculture, but all students benefit from the confidence they gain as young leaders. The interpersonal and networking skills they learn in voc ag set graduates up for success in any industry.

My daughter was enrolled in voc ag through high school,” a proud father said, “the discipline and work ethic she learned is apparent in her work as a highway patrol officer.” His other daughter is also a voc ag grad. “She is at home raising two young children. She puts her ag education to work by grow(ing) a sizable garden with the kids to teach them where food comes from.”

Vocational agriculture benefits Ohio’s agricultural industry, students and the communities in which they live. Last week FFA students served pancakes at a community breakfast in Ross County. “I was a(n) FFA member myself!” a retired farmer said, “I love seeing those blue jackets doing good work in our community.”

References

  1. “Welcome to the Farmland Preservation Office.” Ohio Department of Agriculture Office of Farmland Preservation, n.d. Retrieved from https://agri.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/oda/programs/farmland-preservation-office/home
  2. “Agriculture and its related industries provide 11 percent of U.S. employment.” USDA Economic Research Service, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58282
  3. “Agriculture: Job growth to boom over next five years.” CNBC, May 20, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2015/05/20/agriculture-fertile-ground-for-job-seekers.html

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