One hundred years ago, two men introduced a piece of legislation to the U.S. Congress that would forever change the future of agricultural education. Senator Hoke Smith and Representative D.M. Hughes, both from Georgia, brought forth the National Vocational Education Act, now known as the Smith-Hughes Act.
The Smith-Hughes Act encouraged establishing vocational agriculture to train individuals “who have entered upon or who are preparing to enter upon the work of the farm.” As such, the legislation created one of the first federal grant-in-aid programs, offering federal aid to states for high school vocational education courses.
Agricultural educators embraced the curriculum and a few short years later, some schools began to form student organizations for male students enrolled in their agriculture classes. In 1928, with interest growing across the country, a group of students gathered in Kansas City and created the Future Farmers of America.
That group, known today as the National FFA Organization, has grown to nearly 650,000 members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and encompasses ag-related areas such as communication, food science and genetics. Female students have joined and hold key leadership roles at all levels. No matter the student’s gender, religion or ethnicity, all members share a love of agriculture.
And over the decades, FFA members have been inspired by the words of a Wisconsin educator: Erwin Milton Tiffany, a CALS alumnus and professor of agricultural education. He expressed a love of and vision for agriculture in the form of a creed, adopted at the Third National FFA Convention, that nearly every member learns in his or her first year. The words are powerful, meaningful and passionate. They tell a story of pride and purpose. They are so impactful that many alumni, of all ages, can still recite them today:
“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds—achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.”
Tiffany not only wrote the creed, he lived by it and spread the word. As a CALS professor, he taught and mentored other educators who would continue introducing youth to the many opportunities offered in an organization whose mission is to make a “positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
Student members, alumni, agricultural educators and supporters alike all live by an oath penned by a Badger: “I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”
To read the complete FFA Creed, visit ffa.org/about/who-we-are/ffa-creed
This story was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Grow magazine.