Across the region, the number of sections and members of the FFA is increasing
In Minnesota, that meant the FFA membership was below 10,000 for at least a decade.
“Now we are resuming,” Rada said. The state’s most recent figure is a “recent record” of 12,800 – not yet at 1980s levels but much higher than in the intervening years.
Across the region, the number of agricultural education and VCA programs is increasing, although at different rates and in some cases for different reasons.
Related Story: North Dakota Community Grateful for Farm Education
North Dakota has added about one farm program and one FFA chapter per year in recent years, according to Craig Kleven, North Dakota’s agricultural education supervisor. But with the occasional drop-out programs from the districts, often due to teacher availability issues or low student numbers, the total number of agriculture programs in the state has been on a slow upward trend.
Kleven expects several new chapters to be added by the 2022 State FFA Convention in the spring. He is grateful to communities and school administrators who see the value of programs that will not only prepare students for work in agriculture, but also simply help educate all students about agriculture.
“In North Dakota, our base is still agriculture,” he said. “And through agricultural education, we are creating the agricultural leaders of tomorrow, the producers of tomorrow and the employees of tomorrow.
South Dakota has added 12 new FFA programs since the 2019-2020 school year, said South Dakota FFA Executive Secretary Dani Herring. Some schools already had agricultural education, while others are starting from scratch with both older schools and FFAs.
“In the past week we have received two requests from two different schools in the Sioux Falls area,” she said.
One will start looking for an elderly teacher and FFA advisor, while the other plans to “check out the options” for urban agriculture and start offering courses for the elderly. She believes that the increase in interest may be due to the fact that school officials are aware of the good the program can do for their children.
“They see what these really successful programs look like,” she said.
Minnesota’s growth has been “extraordinary,” Rada said. In the past three years, the state has added 20 new programs, with four more likely to be added by April 2022. The state has seen 105 new agricultural teachers added in the past three years, about half of them in completely new positions.
Some of these new positions are due to the growth of existing programs; two schools now have five agricultural teachers on staff. Some of the new positions are in entirely new programs, including one of the first agricultural education programs in Minneapolis, at Edison High School.
And in some situations, older teachers are hired to teach in other areas. In Minnesota, agricultural education teachers are able to teach economics, physics, and chemistry. If they’re willing to go through “a few more hoops,” they can teach art, like soldering or floral design, Rada said. One of them taught math as an agriculture-based applied mathematics course, and science instruction abounds in agriculture. Rada herself taught food chemistry while teaching in Hutchinson, Minnesota, and the ability to explain chemistry through the prism of something like how baking soda works in a recipe made the concept less abstract, a she declared.
“We are the original STEM,” Rada said. “We have been teaching agriculture as a context for teaching science and math for 100 years. “
She also knows at least two districts in Minnesota looking for teachers, and she believes there is not so much a shortage of agricultural teachers as it is exploding demand.
“Our growth is so rapid that we are creating our scarcity,” she said.