“It helped me get to school in the morning,” Bonds said of his membership the Pleasant Valley Future Farmers of America chapter, starting in the seventh grade on a suggestion from his teacher Chris Ramsey. “I probably wouldn’t even be in school if it wasn’t for this.”
After more than five years of involvement in the club, the Pleasant Valley High School senior will get his first chance to compete at the national Future Farmers of America convention in October in Louisville, Ky. Pleasant Valley High’s chapter of Future Farmers will represent the state of Alabama at the event.
For Ramsey, the agriculture teacher who brought the chapter to Pleasant Valley in 2008, it’s a culmination of how quickly Future Farmers of America has grown in the small school.
“We have 82 paying FFA members, and that makes us the largest in the county,” Ramsey said Thursday from his agriculture classroom, decorated in dozens of pennants the club has won from district and state competitions. “We have students who can’t even compete because we have too many members, but still come to competitions and work with us.”
In June, three Pleasant Valley teams – nursery landscaping, forestry and floriculture – won the state competition in Montgomery. The toughest part of the competition, said sophomore Madilyn Turner, is identifying plants and insects from a list of more than 120 species.
“You have 30 seconds to identify what it is,” Turner said. “But you have to find its name on a list, get the number, and submit it, so really you have to know right away what it is.”
The most important aspect of the competition, Ramsey said, is the career training it offers for students who have to submit resumes, be interviewed and solve customer-related problems and questions.
“It’s an opportunity,” said the club’s president, junior Destiny Barthel, who plans to run as a state official for the Alabama Future Farmers of America in the spring. “I think Future Farmers opened my eyes to a lot of things most high schoolers don’t experience.”
Even for students not interested in a career in agriculture, the program has been highly beneficial, Turner said.
“It has really helped with my public speaking,” Turner said. “You get to these competitions and there’s so many people and you have to recite things and do interviews. You just get a lot of experience.”
It’s the kind of career training Ramsey said he wished he’d had in high school, when he thought he’d end up eventually going to law school before he realized his true passion.
“I don’t really know when I decided to become an ag teacher,” said Ramsey, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in horticulture. “It was sort of a driving-home-from-Auburn-in-my-pickup-truck decision.”
But at least one of his students made up his mind a lot sooner about his plans.
“I want to be an ag teacher,” Bonds said. “No question.”
Ramsey said the trip will cost about $14,000, and the club has a few fundraising events to help with the money. Saturday night, the agriculture department will host an outdoor benefit concert on the baseball field featuring local musicians Kelli Johnson and Lindsey Hinkle. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10 by calling the agricultural department at 256-741-6737, or for $12 at the door.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.