What’s Old is New Again
The rooster just crowed and your young’un has already gotten up, fed the sheep, cleaned the pen and is washing up to hurry and get some schoolin’. Sounds like the type of lifestyle our grandparents led, right? Kids in Plano ISD have a new opportunity that is generations old, learning about farm life in the only Junior Future Farmers of America (FFA) program in Texas, right here at Plano’s Heritage Farmstead Museum (HFM).
Plano may be the epitome of urban sophistication now with high-end shopping and dining destinations, but our beloved city was primarily a farming community until the 1960s when high tech businesses started moving into town. The Heritage Farmstead, previously owned by Ammie Wilson, was one of the few working farms in Plano that survived urbanization. Miss Ammie raised award-winning sheep at her farm on 15th Street until her death in 1972.
Through the years, the number of FFA participants in Plano dwindled. The Farmstead is trying to reverse that trend and get more kids interested in raising animals. Kathy Strobel is the current director of the Junior FFA program at HFM. The Junior program is for Plano ISD students in grades 3-8, and the Senior FFA program is for grades 9-12.
When 6th grade student and HFM volunteer Chloe Frohock expressed an interest in raising livestock, Kathy contacted the Junior League of Collin County for assistance; after all, the organization was instrumental in transitioning the farm to a museum. In 2015 the Junior League funded a grant to make FFA happen. Now an 8th grader, Chloe was the first in line to sign up and has raised sheep and now a goat.
Raising livestock is expensive. So HFM set up the Ammie Wilson Scholarship to provide students a sheep to raise and take to the Collin County Livestock Show. A new scholarship will be added soon, named after Bill Raden, Ammie Wilson’s herd master. It will be available for any boy wanting to participate in FFA. Surprisingly the face of today’s program is predominately female. In the age of technology, fewer boys are going out and playing in the dirt. The Farmstead hopes to change that.
What do kids in FFA do? The basics of animal care is where it starts – feeding, watering, grooming and exercising their animal. Kids also learn public speaking, gain confidence and obtain leadership skills. Many that participate in the program throughout high school will also qualify for college scholarships.
Senior Reese Thibodeaux says, “The program has expanded my knowledge and career options. It led me to want [to pursue] a veterinary career.” Reese will graduate high school in June and has been accepted to Oklahoma State University in its pre-veterinary program.
Chloe says, “I love FFA and being around all the people and participating in the livestock shows.” Third grader Annalise Potter “…just loves having my lamb.” She looks forward to doing the hard work it takes to keep the animal happy and healthy. The program teaches kids that farm animals are just that, part of a working farm. They aren’t pets, and kids learn to understand that some animals will be sold at shows.
In all, Kathy says the program’s mission is “keeping agriculture alive and being a trendsetter in the community to teach the future by learning from the past.” She also feels HFM has an obligation to preserve Ammie Wilson’s story and her livelihood.
The FFA program was graciously funded this past year by Plano City Council Member David Downs and his wife Chris, with the help of a financial award David received from AXA Advisors. David grew up in Arkansas and had practical farm life experience. He says, “Here was an opportunity to sponsor a program that harkens back to Plano’s history with a focus on young children. Combine that with the fantastic group at Heritage Farmstead and their desire to begin a sustainable program and it just seemed…right.”
The Junior FFA program just had its kickoff to recruit student participants for next year. The program is small right now but Kathy hopes touring the program through local middle schools will help it gain notice and momentum.
With so many Plano citizens getting back to their roots by eating organically, starting backyard gardens and buying locally grown meats and dairy, farming might not just be our past, but could be the face of our future as well.
Heritage Farmstead Museum >