BY DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Post-World War I America and her people were ready for progress in the late teens. The war effort had been as intense on the home front as on the front lines. Every American felt the effects of the battle for freedom, and was ready to work for a better day.
The war effort of World War I created a need for more and better food production, improvement in the building trades and a strengthening of family life. This lead to the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act by Congress on Feb.23, 1917. This act provided for vocational training in public schools in the areas of agriculture, home economics and the building trades.
As the nation’s first vocational education legislation, Senators Hoke Smith and Dudley Hughes recognized and funded vocational agriculture courses in secondary schools. Section 10 of the Smith-Hughes act reads, “that such schools shall provide for directed or supervised practice in agriculture, either on a farm provided for by the school or other farm, for at least six months per year.”
Soon after the establishment of Vocational Agriculture in 1918, it became apparent that youth activities were to become a part of the program. Groups organized under various names, all over the Nation. Some became quite active and were organized at area and state. One group – “Future Farmers of Virginia”, was especially well organized and instrumental in organizing FFA on a National basis.
Dean Alford Vivian, Dean of the College of Agriculture at The Ohio State University, was interested in the new program and was instrumental in getting it established in Ohio. He persuaded Wilber F. Stewart of Wisconsin to come to The Ohio State University and implement it as supervisor and teacher-trainer. Dr. Stewart was very effective in setting up a quality program and in 1921 became chairman of the teacher education department. Ray Fife, his assistant, became head state supervisor.
Vocational Agriculture enjoyed great acceptance from schools and communities from the very beginning. The new educational concept of “Learning by Doing” was practical and effective. The teachers’ interest and participation in the activities of the community were appreciated. The “Ag Room” soon became a popular place in the community and the program grew.
Ohio was an early innovator. The first-ever Vocational Agriculture chapters in Ohio were created on April 20, 1929. They included: Fayette, Paulding, Versailles, New Bremen, Hebrow, Worthington, Bellefontaine, Painesville, Harmony Township, Berlin, Medina, Hillsboro, Liverpool Township, Wooster, Gibsonburg, Montgomery Township, Wadsworth, Millersburg and Pleasant Township.
Versailles, Ohio (then under the leadership of A.W. Nisonger) was one of those 19 communities and is still strong to this day as an FFA chapter at Versailles High School.
Leading the Versailles FFA charge is school advisor Dena Wuebker.
“Our membership expectations are set quite high as we want the kids to perform three or four community service activities throughout the year,” Wuebker said, “and we provide them with many activities to choose from, like our annual toy drive, can food drive, harvest sale and farm safety training just to name a few.
“It’s our belief that FFA helps develop lifetime skills in kids, things like leadership, communication, personal growth, teamwork and interviewing skills.”
Talawanda Schools in Oxford, Ohio is the third-oldest FFA program in the state. The program at the high school began in 1957. More than 200 students at this school take ag-only classes.
“Our FFA students can choose from five different areas of concentration – food and natural resources, greenhouse management, livestock selection care, mechanical principles and ag business,” said Mike Derringer, ag education teacher. “The community is very supportive of FFA at the high school.”
Kellie Beiser, ag education teacher at Edgewood High School and Butler Tech in Butler County, says FFA “opens the students’ doors and their minds.”
“A lot of students in our community would never consider ag as a career because they’re not from a farm anymore,” Beiser said. “Thanks to FFA they’re making connections to work, volunteer and intern. FFA is more than just one thing. It’s opening doors to the industry and in our community that’s highly important.”