Blue jackets and golden opportunities come from long history of local and national FFA

Legacy of FFA continues today with broader focus on leadership, speaking, and professionalism

America is changing rapidly. For most Americans, it seems the world is shrinking. War and strife in other countries are impacting American agricultural exports. Jobs are changing and the people required to man those positions require new skills, training, and expertise. Industry leaders, parents, and lawmakers are worried about one question: “Are our schools keeping up? Are young Americans being adequately prepared for a changing world economy? Are we keeping up with our moral obligations to young people?”

This might sound a lot like today, but in the late 19th century, it wasn’t bioscience, computers, or technology driving concern over education standards. Industrialization was driving the economy. Agriculture, too, was changing swiftly with new techniques, seeds, and mechanical equipment. In 1900, 41% of the workforce was employed in agriculture.

Meanwhile, American schools were stuck in an early-19th-century model focused on spelling, reading, and basic math. To labor unions, industrialists, and a lot of lawmakers, American public schools needed to do more. 

So, in 1917, US Senator Hoke Smith, a Georgia attorney, and Rep. Dudley Hughes, a farmer also from Georgia, drafted what became known as the Smith-Hughes Act. Formally the National Vocational Act, it provided millions of dollars to states to expand vocational education in agricultural and industrial trades. The bill was the first of its kind to match funds from the federal treasury with state governments pursuing more oversight of local one-room schools.

In less than a decade, American schools were training young girls in home economics. Boys were learning about woodworking and craftsmanship. Looking to further prepare American boys in agriculture, four Virginia Tech education teachers, Henry Groseclose, Harry Sanders, Walter Newman, and Edmund Magill formed a club and called it “The Future Farmers of Virginia.” 

A year later, the group met with several other similar groups in Kansas City, Missouri at the First National Congress of Vocational Agriculture Students to judge livestock and horses. Within two years, the Future Farmers of America was formally chartered in Kansas City at the first National FFA Convention.

The idea — and the signature blue and gold jackets FFA members sported — spread rapidly. FFA launched a radio station on NBC in 1931. And by World War II, FFA members served in the mammoth war effort by sewing, growing, and building the nation’s food, clothing, and equipment supply. 

Warrenton, Wright City FFA get off to a big start just before WWII

Bill Remmert (center) was honored at a Warrenton FFA Banquet for having started the Ag Department at the
school. Remmert is shown with his wife Arlene and one of the 1938-39 charter members Melvin Vahle.
In this archival photo from the Warrenton Banner, Bill Remmert (center) was honored at the Warrenton FFA Banquet for having started the Ag Department at the school. Remmert is shown with his wife Arlene and one of the 1938-39 charter members, Melvin Vahle.

Warrenton High School teacher Bill Remmert started an FFA chapter in 1938. With $150 and a modest white building near Highways 47 and 40, Remmert and about two dozen students built a stove out of a 55-gallon drum. This was their first project. By 1940, 37 students signed the first Charter for the Warrenton FFA. 

Teacher William Keller started an FFA chapter at Wright City High School the same year and their first charter was signed by 30 students a year later. Wright City has 55 members today in the 2022-2023 school year.

Given the timing, many of those inaugural members from both schools would be serving on the front lines of Europe and the Pacific within months.

Today, FFA continues on with over double the number of members. “We’re at 102 members for the 2022-2023 school year,” says Diane Miederhoff, the present-day Agriculture Educator at Warrenton High School and FFA Chapter Advisor. Today’s program traces its history to Remmert and his focus on vocational skills, but the vocational skills required today look much different. 

“About 5% of [today’s members] are focused on farming,” says Miederhoff. Nationally, less than 2% of the economy employs someone in traditional farming operations. “Students enroll in agriculture education courses and become members of the FFA organization because they are interested in learning about the diverse career opportunities that are available in the agriculture industry. Plus, they want to be part of an organization that will help develop their leadership skills and personal growth for career success,” she says.

The FFA seal and 4-H cloverleaf hang in the foyer of the Warren County Historical Society.
Special exhibits and items from nearly 100 years of 4-H and FFA history are in the Museum.

Today’s agriculture education students are taught lessons in the classroom that focus on a variety of agricultural sectors like:

  • Animal science
  • Plant science
  • Agriculture business
  • Agriculture communications
  • Food science
  • Agriculture construction
  • Metal fabrication
  • Conservation of wildlife
  • Natural resources 

“Many students seek employment during their high school careers that relate to their agricultural area of interest. Employers are eager to hire FFA members because they know that they are responsible, trustworthy, and willing to work to get the job done correctly,” says Miederhoff. 

Many students who are members of the Wright City and Warrenton FFA Chapters are employed by community members and local businesses. “Some work at local meat lockers, for lawn and land services, weld and perform machinery maintenance, work in the agritourism industry, as well as production and companion animal industries,” says Miederhoff. “Warren County has a very strong agricultural history and connection to the National FFA Organization.”

New exhibits and partnerships with FFA

The Warren County Historical Society and Museum are curating new exhibits and partnerships with Warren County FFA, celebrating their long history and the 945,000+ members in 9,163 chapters across the US, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.

FFA’s motto of “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve” will be on display with photos, exhibits, and a deep community service partnership with the Historical Society. In September and October 2023, the Big Creek 4-H, Elkhorn 4-H, Country Crossroads, Wright City FFA, and Warrenton FFA will use the Museum to take tours, host meetings, and use materials in the Museum to create projects.

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00
Skip to content