by Steve Wagner
Ignite the Night, an FFA event, was appropriately named. The function at the Sheraton in Harrisburg, PA was further described as the 10th annual Blue and Gold Ball for FFA alumni. Besides alumni, a look around the ballroom would reveal the presence of two of the three Pennsylvania dairy princesses. Long time hog farmer and recent chicken farmer Chris Hoffman displayed one of his hidden talents as a program emcee and disc jockey.
Chris Toevs, the FFA state president from Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, said, “One of our goals this year is to reach out and get more active participation with our membership. It seems like in past years we have seen members come to conferences but we’d like to get more engagement out of them. We want them to leave our conferences and workshops with more of a learning aspect and as better students. Our goal as state officers is to leave more of an impact on our students to grow as individuals as well as students when they go back to their schools.
“Whenever you look at our society’s roots, where our society came from,” Toevs continued, “There are technological breakthroughs. Even if today we have farming taking some strikes against it, I believe that if we were to sit back and mechanize, without farming we would not have the luxuries we have today. Without the person who does the back-breaking labor, there would be no way to build ourselves up to the stature we have now. We need to understand that other countries like Brazil and Italy have their own methods of farming that were forged over hundreds of years. America has only been around for 300 or so years, but these other countries have been perfecting their farming techniques since BC times. If you take into consideration all their farming techniques, and where they’ve come from as a society, they put a huge focus on their farmers. In Korea, being a farmer is considered a luxury. Farmers are on a high pedestal because they provide for society.”
Women in FFA
Robin Hetherington, who with her husband owns and operates the B&R Farm, a 160 year old fruit and vegetable operation in Ringtown, Schuylkill County, PA, is an FFA alumnus from when girls were a rarity in the organization. “I had to fight to get into FFA because I started in FFA in 1969,” Robin remembers. “That was the first year they accepted females. So when I went to state convention for the first time there were only six of us girls and 600 boys. We were quite an oddity. There was no uniform dress for us, no guidelines whatsoever because they really didn’t know what to do with us.”
Things began to turn around for the young ladies “only after we started elbowing our way in,” Robin adds, “and after we started whuppin’ them. I was the state’s champion meat judge one year. All of these were male-dominated fields, and when the girls came in and started to compete with the boys at the same level, it opened people’s eyes all of a sudden. We were able; we could public speak, we could exercise parliamentary procedure, we could judge forest products, we could do all that stuff. Then it expanded into areas where girls have a little more historical interest — horticulture, aquatics, and things like that. But back when I started it was pretty much a boy’s club.”
Robin’s aspiration was to get a degree in agriculture but she was told by her high school guidance counselor that the only proper jobs for girls were as nurses, secretaries, teachers or homemakers. For the guidance counselor, the idea of a girl receiving a degree in agriculture was extraordinary and, consequently, he refused to sign Robin’s grade transcripts. Someone else eventually signed them. This was 1973.
“I outlived him, so I won,” she said.
The whipped cream on that dessert is that Robin is the president of two school boards, and her training in parliamentary procedure has served her well. “I actually had a solicitor ask me ‘why would FFA kids need training in parliamentary procedure?’ I said ‘look around the country. Who sits on zoning boards? Who are the township supervisors and planning commissioners? They are all farmers, rural people.’”
Robin views her FFA experience as a blessing. “We were talking at the ball about buying the blue and gold jackets. There was a girl in school who had tried to follow me in FFA. She was a sick child. I was already in college when my mother called to ask if she could pull the stitches out of my FFA jacket and give it to this little girl who had joined FFA. I said sure, I wasn’t going to be wearing it. And I know where that jacket is today. That little girl did not survive high school. The disease she had finally claimed her life. And that jacket was buried with her; how touching that was. The jacket meant that much to her. I am satisfied that it is being loved forever.”