|OCTOBER 11, 2010 --
Walk the halls of almost any high school in America, and there are few things as universally recognizable as the blue corduroy of an FFA jacket. It is not only the unique style and bold colors that make it stand out, but also the young men and women who wear these jackets with pride. For many, the FFA is a focal point of their high school career. However, from the first time a student dons their FFA jacket, in the back of their mind, they realize it will one day come to an end.
Hanging up the blue jacket can be an emotional time for a retiring FFA member. They have invested countless hours in preparing for contests, developing leadership skills, and organizing their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project. Many are faced with the question of “what now?” For many, the Grange serves as the springboard for FFA alumni looking to take the next step in life.
Across the country there are Grange members, both current FFA members and alumni, who call the Grange home and say the blue sash of the Grange is a perfect fit.
From its inception, the Grange has advocated agricultural education, and has been an ardent supporter of FFA. Formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, the FFA was formed in 1926 to augment what was taught in the classroom with extracurricular activities. The Grange supported vocational education efforts, including the passage of several laws that lead to the FFA’s formation. The first FFA Executive Secretary, Henry Gloscose, was also a Seventh Degree Grange member, and is the author of the FFA Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Some might think the similarities between the two organizations are coincidental. However, look beneath the surface, and the connection is profound.
Victor Salazar, 2010-2011 Connecticut FFA State President said, “Both organizations are rooted in agriculture, both promote excellence, and both make the member a better individual.” Salazar served as the 2008 National Grange Youth Master as part of the National Grange Youth Officer Team.
“I believe the best way to illustrate the connection between the Grange and the FFA is to look at the closing charge of the Master in the Grange and the President in the FFA;” he cited the charges’ common themes of diligence in labor, honesty and fairness. While each is said differently, the similarity is undeniable.
“These were written more than 50 years apart from each other, yet they say basically the same thing. To me this exemplifies the connection between the two organizations the best,” Salazar said.
National Grange Master Ed Luttrell said the FFA provided him with several life skills that he utilizes today in his Grange duties. However, he is quick to point out that it was in the Grange that he was able to take the classroom experience and apply it to real life.
“That is why the connection is so positive. You learn the skills on one side [in FFA] and then use them on the other side in Grange,” said Luttrell. During his time in the Hillsboro Mid-High chapter in Oregon, Luttrell said he participated in every FFA contest possible, soaking up information “as a sponge.” A favorite contest was parliamentary procedure, a skill that comes in handy in his current role as National Master.
Former Pennsylvania FFA State Reporter, and Elizabethtown Grange member, Suzannah Mellinger said that the one unique aspect of the Grange is its sense of family among its members. It is one of the reasons she joined the organization near the conclusion of her State Officer career. She also noted that for FFA alumni looking for the next step in leadership, the transition into the Grange is an easy one.
Caroline Tart, the 2009-2010 National Grange Youth Mentor and Rosewood FFA Chapter member, is facing this difficult phase of her FFA career; putting on her blue jacket for the last time. Like Salazar, she has had an active FFA career, including chapter and regional FFA offices and serving as a National FFA convention delegate for her home state of North Carolina.
“Hanging up my blue jacket was a very tough realization and the end of an era,” Tart said. “However, having the Grange there helps fill the void immensely. I know that it is an organization that has a passion for agriculture and helps improve the youth of today and those two things are what I am passionate about.” She also noted her dedication to agriculture and education did not have to end with FFA and that she is able to continue her work, just in a different way.
2009 National Youth Officer Team Master Joe Stefenoni of California encourages FFA members to seek the Grange to use their talents; “Once FFA members are out of high school they have very few places to use those skills, and the Grange is one of the places they can.” He is a member of the Sebastopol- Analy FFA chapter.
As an FFA member who has an appreciation for the opening and closing FFA ceremonies, Stefenoni said he has developed a passion for such Grange traditions as its rituals, describing them as “beautiful.”
Pennsylvania’s Gail Switzer, 2008-2009 National Grange Youth Mentor, and Conrad Weiser, FFA Alumni, said the National Grange Youth Department activities allow her the opportunity to continue her leadership growth through contests such as public speaking, gaining responsibility by completing tasks, and making her community better through Grange service projects.
The Grange is noted for its traditions of family and rural advocacy. It is those traditions that have made the lasting impact for FFA alumni in the Grange.
“The thing I remember most from FFA is the friendships we had,” said Luttrell. “We were the ag boys when I was in FFA… in reality, we were a close bunch because of the activities. Those things are exactly the same in the Grange, except the friendship and fellowship is far deeper and much longer lasting. There is a real difference from being a group of just high school students to being a part of a group that includes grandparents and little kids. The family structure of the Grange fills the void from FFA. It’s more than a bunch of peers, it’s a family. As we go through life, family becomes more and more important to us.”