Future Farmers grow enthusiasm for food production

SOPHOMORE JAKE COLCORD drove his trusty, open-cab John Deere tractor 3.9 miles to Montezuma-Cortez High School on Wednesday as part of National FFA Week. It was a little cold, he said. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

SOPHOMORE JAKE COLCORD drove his trusty, open-cab John Deere tractor 3.9 miles to Montezuma-Cortez High School on Wednesday as part of National FFA Week. "It was a little cold," he said.

M-CHS celebrates National FFA week

By Luke Groskopf

Journal Staff Writer

Where would we be without farmers and ranchers? Much hungrier, for one.

Drawing attention to the importance of agriculture - including the next generation of up-and-coming food growers - is the main purpose of National FFA Week, drawing to a close today.

Montezuma-Cortez High School's FFA chapter has about 80 students, according to agricultural science teacher Amanda Ramos. The high school raised awareness of FFA with themed dress-up days this week, as well as informative displays being shown around town.

The six FFA classes at M-CHS have kept busy this semester creating the displays, which are available for viewing in the shop windows of Main Street businesses Susie's Hallmark, Kokopelli Bike & Board, Bru's House of Color, Slavens True Value, High Mesa Design and the vacant space next to Office Outpost.

Centered around the unifying theme "Grow", Ramos said topics covered by the displays include the food pyramid, tracing where different components of a hamburger come from and a 3D depiction of the farm-to-supermarket transport chain. Yet another display examines various by-products derived from cattle. Some are obvious - like beef and leather - and others less so: soap, cosmetics, medicines and musical instrument strings.

As part of the FFA curriculum, Ramos said students complete "Supervised Agricultural Experiences" - internships or independent projects where lessons learned in class are adapted to a real-life setting. Some find work at a local supply shop or established farm, for example. Others raise their own livestock or cultivate a garden from scratch. M-CHS estimates that these arrangements contribute more than $50,000 to the local economy through purchases of fuel, feed, seeds, veterinarian bills and other materials.

Themed dress-up days were another means to recognize FFA and the wider farm and ranch community. On Tuesday, FFA students sported their trademark blue corduroy jackets. On Wednesday they donned work clothes connected to agriculture-related careers. Thursday they were encouraged to wear the Cortez FFA Chapter t-shirt, and yesterday was Western Wear Day.

On Wednesday, students with valid driver's licenses were invited to drive farm tractors to school. Despite overcast skies and clouds heavy with snow, sophomore Jake Colcord took the opportunity, firing up his John Deere and arriving to campus in style.

Future Farmers of America was founded in 1928. Since 1947, the week of President's Day has been designated National FFA Week in honor of George Washington, an avid gardener and supporter of agriculture. His 281st birthday was Friday.

"It will not be doubted that, with reference either to individual or national welfare, agriculture is of primary importance," he told Congress in 1796 as he urged them to establish a National Board of Agriculture. His request was declined, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn't created until 1862. At that time almost 60 percent of Americans made a living farming or ranching. Today that number has dwindled to two percent with the absorbing of family-owned homesteads into larger, mechanized operations.

Still, small-scale farms have a significant presence locally. Of the 1,000-plus farms in Montezuma County, almost half are under 50 acres, according to the 2007 Agriculture Census.

There are currently about 557,000 FFA members, aged 12-21, across the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Almost 90 percent of them are of high-school age.