Harlem High School’s Future Farmers of America program is no longer just about farming.
As past and present members of the school’s FFA chapter prepare to celebrate its 75th anniversary, many affiliated with FFA look at what the organization currently stands for.
“Most of the people we reach out to are not farmers,” said Harlem FFA Adviser William Gay. “They’ll be involved in the agricultural field, but not necessarily
This is Gay’s first year at Harlem teaching horticulture, nursery/landscaping and basic agriculture. His students are required to join the local FFA chapter, which has about 150 members.
Through the program, students travel around the state and compete in events such as land judging, plant identification and public speaking, Gay said.
The FFA groups most recently participated in competitions at the Columbia County Fair.
Retired Evans agriculture teacher Chuck Anderson was part of Harlem’s FFA program in the 1960s.
“We had a lot of contests and a lot of hands-on learning experiences when I was going there, and they still do now,” he said.
Last year, he helped to revamp Harlem’s agriculture program as a part-time instructor at the school.
“Agriculture is still America’s biggest employer,” said Anderson, naming jobs in soil conservation, forestry, horticulture, landscaping and nursery production as examples.
Gay said a big misconception people have about FFA is that it focuses on farming, which was the case when the Harlem chapter started in 1937.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize what’s going on in the area as far as agriculture because we have several nurseries and that’s a big part,” he said. “Several of my students work with landscaping companies and several of them work with golf courses.
“Turf and landscape is a large thing around here.”
Harlem senior Adam Yelton has been an officer in the program since he was a freshman.
“I’ve always had an agricultural influence in my life,” said Adam, whose dad owns a lumber mill.
While Adam aspires to become a firefighter, he’ll still use what he has learned in FFA, such as gardening, as a hobby, he said.
Cliff Collins, on the other hand, plans to pursue a career in agriculture.
The Harlem junior and chapter president wants to open his own nursery and greenhouse business. His family operated a farm several years ago, he said.
The program, Cliff said, instills leadership and responsibility in members.
Cliff, like many FFA members, is looking forward to the school’s 75th anniversary celebration Saturday.
“I think it’s a good thing to have the celebration for more people to get involved,” he said.
The public is invited to attend the event, which begins at 5 p.m. inside Harlem’s commons area. A meal and door prizes are part of the evening’s activities.
Tickets cost $15 in advance and can be purchased at Harlem High, the Columbia County Farm Bureau and Grovetown Farm and Garden.
Special guests will be Harlem FFA charter member Jack Hatcher, 92, and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
In honor of Harlem’s milestone anniversary, Steed’s Dairy Farm will hold FFA Day at the corn “maize” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.
For more information, call Harlem High at (706) 556-5980.