Growing up, I wasn’t in FFA, which at the time was called Future Farmers of America. All I knew about the organization was that its members wore blue corduroy jackets. It wasn’t until studying for my master’s degree in agriculture education and student teaching that I really learned about the organization.
But there was one aspect of its history I learned nothing about. In fact, I didn’t hear about it until an acquaintance, Dr. Antione Alston, co-authored a book about the New Farmers of America (NFA). Who were these students?
In short, the NFA was the African-American version of FFA. Founded in 1927 during segregation, NFA was a vocational agriculture program to help African-American boys become farmers.
The program started at Virginia State University, established by the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890. The first Morrill Land Grant Act, enacted in 1862, created land-grant colleges using proceeds from the sales of federally-owned land. The 1890 act provided public colleges for African-Americans in states where they could not otherwise pursue higher education. North Carolina A&T, where Professor Alston teaches, is my adopted state’s 1890 university.
Alston’s book (coauthored with Dexter B. Wakefield, PhD and Netta S. Cox, MSEd, MLS), The Legacy of the New Farmers of America, tells the story of this organization in pictures. It not only showcases the NFA’s impact in the classroom, but also at the students’ homes and communities.
For example, one photo showed a student with his first-place ham, part of the group’s World War II contribution to “Food and Feed for Defense”. Another showed local farmers milking cows in a new dairy barn built by local agriculture students as a class project.
The program also focused on leadership and scholarship, with many members going on to college and then careers in agriculture.
The NFA grew from a Virginia program to a national program, with its first national meeting held in 1935. It grew from 18 local chapters to more than 1,000 chapters with 58,000 members between its start and eventual absorption into FFA in 1965.
Flipping through the pages of Alston’s book it was easy to see the hard work and the pride the students, teachers, and community had for the NFA. Its former members are now in their 70s or 80s, so time is running out to capture that part of agriculture education’s history from those who lived it and share it with the students who are shaping the future of agriculture.