The annual national Future Farmers of America celebratory week is upon us, which makes for a good time to reflect on the value of agriculture and how young people can find a place in agriculture to succeed an older generation of farmers and ranchers.
Agriculture is a wonderfully diverse way of life, with rewarding opportunities. It is also a challenging way to make a living and requires knowledge of planting, harvesting, business, science and more.
FFA was founded in 1928 to encourage young people to stay on the farm. Beginning in Virginia, and then in other states, the FFA emblem was originally encircled with the cotton boll. That changed to kernels of corn as the organization became national, and in 1969, young women were able to join. There are more than 600,000 FFA members nationwide.
At Durango High School, more than 60 students take an agriculture science course and are enrolled in FFA. This week, they’ll be especially visible at the high school, dressing in FFA garb, meeting the school buses, visiting elementary schools and participating in an agricultural “Olympics.” A farm tractor demonstration will also take place.
While many students can find employment with research institutes, seed and chemical companies and at the major farm machinery corporations, we know that there will be some employment closer to home. We recognize that work could require another job, in town, or life with someone who has such a job. That is the nature of small-scale agriculture.
At the state level, the Legislature is promoting an internship program for a limited number of individuals interested in farming and ranching. If passed and signed into law, funds will partially offset the wages and living expenses of interns who work alongside seasoned farmers and ranchers. The “Colorado Agriculture Workforce Development Act,” sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators including State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, is for Colorado’s aspiring farmers and ranchers.
At the national level, the National Young Farmers Coalition is working to ensure the future success of young farmers. It currently has 36 chapters in 26 states, including the Four Corners Farmers and Ranchers Coalition (Herald, Feb. 17).
La Plata County is a richer place to live as a result of the open vistas and spectacular backdrops. Agriculture is a major part of making that possible, increasing the appeal of the area and of property values for everyone. It is important that the county’s land use code include reasonable protections for agricultural operations.
Farmers markets in Durango and nearby communities are attracting ever-larger followings, as shoppers learn to appreciate buying freshness and quality grown locally. The markets are also pretty good gathering spots to share community and family news and opinions.
The county fair continues to be popular with those who know agriculture and those who want to experience it, with a mix of traditional and creative competitions for all ages.
We all want successive generations of farmers and ranchers on the land and are pleased our state Legislature and these organizations are working toward this goal, too.