It is not a stretch to say that Tenino High School’s agriculture teacher, Geraldine Maxfield, is passionate about Future Farmers of America. Since Maxfield started working at Tenino 24 years ago, freshly graduated from California’s Chico State, she has spearheaded Tenino’s FFA chapter.
Maxfield’s relationship with FFA, however, goes back to her own high school years. “The reason I became an ag. teacher is truly because of my ag. teacher, Sandy Newkirk. I was very active in high school FFA. They also had a collegiate FFA at Chico State where I graduated. In later years at college, I helped coach and host FFA contests,” Maxfield explains.
Maxfield’s history with FFA made her an ideal fit for Tenino where it has thrived for a very long time. The FFA was started in Kansas in 1928 by a group of boys who were taking agriculture classes and decided they wanted to have a club. In 1935, only seven years later, Tenino FFA started and was the 117th chapter.
FFA spread like wild fire.
Unless you have had first-hand contact with Future Farmers of America, you may not know what it is all about. FFA is a national organization and the largest youth organization in the United States with around 680,000 members.
“We reached a record high this year,” says Maxfield, “which is interesting because it’s an agriculturally-based program. As we become more urban in the United States, it’s intriguing that an organization that advocates and supports agriculture is growing. And Washington State had the largest growth in the nation.”
There are three main components to FFA: growing leaders, advocating for agriculture, and building communities.
“Through leadership, students become involved in public speaking, and there are numerous contests available through career development events,” she says. “Contests can be anything from job interviews, ag. communication, ag. sales, livestock judging, horse judging, floral design, horticulture, tractor driving, ag. mechanics – it’s a wide spectrum that students can become involved in, and of course they have to practice. The idea is that they are taking what they are learning in the classroom and applying it outside.”
Many of us associate FFA only with raising farm animals and other agricultural practices.
“Students can raise animals if livestock is their passion. Perhaps their family has livestock or they would like to try to raise livestock. They can raise an animal and then take it to the fair to sell or keep,” Maxfield says.
A Focus on Giving Back
According to Maxfield the community service aspect of FFA is huge in Tenino. “I’m a firm believer that when kids leave here, they are going to be good citizens.”
Tenino FFA grows a community garden that was implemented a couple years ago and draws volunteers of all ages from the community. The garden requires that the FFA leaders staff it with volunteers all summer for the weekly harvests. They just finished a wreath sale where the proceeds will go to For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue. Students also work on Christmas House donations for the food bank.
Last year students from FFA and Tenino High School built a tiny house for the homeless in Seattle. This accomplishment helped Tenino FFA be in the running for an award at the national level. They placed in the top ten in the nation. Tenino is also a 3-star FFA chapter.
For Students, Run by Students
Since FFA is a student-run organization, there is a planning retreat every summer when they will decide what will happen in the program that year.
Ag. Day is a project FFA students are excited about this year. “They bring over the fifth graders, and my students have to develop curriculum. The group this year is fired up to do this. Two of my sophomores who are officers have been waiting to join FFA ever since the fifth grade because they came to Agriculture Day, and it just clicked with them,” Maxfield explains.
Geraldine Maxfield sees her role as a facilitator. She provides an environment and guidelines to get kids going on their projects, and then they run with it.
“I really do believe it’s all about providing opportunities to plan and organize,” she says. “For example, for Ag. Day they are responsible for contacting the elementary principal, providing a curriculum, putting together packets, lining up what animals will be there, where they will come from, how they are transported etc. They have to teach the kids themselves.”
“We travel,” she adds. “Make money, spend money, do leadership and recreational activities, because we work hard, so we want to have some fun.”
Traveling includes a road trip to California each year. Maxfield makes it a point to visit at least three colleges to help inspire kids to see what opportunities are out there.
“To help them become productive members of society, they need to have something to offer to the community. Whether it’s learning a trade or going to college. I love Tenino; I chose to live here. There’s nothing wrong with living in Tenino. But there’s also nothing wrong with going out there and exploring a bit and finding your way back,” finishes Maxfield.
And that really is the heart of Geraldine Maxfield’s method: to put opportunities in front of kids and encourage them along as you never know where they’ll land.