PLYMOUTH — Sarah Hoak has learned plenty during her four and a half years in FFA.
She’s propagated her own succulents, churned homemade butter, analyzed soil quality and raised rabbits and goats to exhibit at the Richland County Fair.
Hoak has honed her public speaking skills, practiced for job interviews and learned how to run a meeting.
But despite a laundry list of accolades and experiences, Hoak says her time in FFA can’t be summed up by a resume or even a scrapbook.
“I can go on and on about all the things I did and the awards I won and although I’m proud of them, they’re not what I value most,” said Hoak, a high school and president of the FFA chapter at Plymouth High School.
“The people and the memories I have made with them are one of the most valuable things I have come to possess within my years at this school,” she said. “It is one thing that history books will never be able to capture.”
Hoak served as emcee during a centennial celebration Monday night, which commemorated 100 years of agriculture education in the Plymouth-Shiloh school district.
Shiloh High School became the first in Richland County to establish a vocational agriculture class during the 1923-1924 school year. The Smith-Hughes class was named for a Congressional act that provided federal funding for agricultural education. High school boys learned about shop skills, animal husbandry and farm crops.
Shiloh’s FFA chapter was chartered ten years later on January 23, 1933. The chapter was renamed in the late 1950s when Plymouth and Shiloh merged into a single school district.
Current FFA members, chapter alumni and instructors gathered with members of the community Monday to swap stories and relive memories over bowls of homemade soup.
Levi Myers, an agricultural education teacher at Shelby Middle and High School, attended the event with his father Cory and grandfather Dave. All three are Plymouth FFA alumni.
Cory said quality teachers have helped the program continue to thrive over the span of a century.
“We’ve had very good instructors over the years that maintain the interest in the school systems,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
Laura Ringler, who taught agricultural education at Plymouth from 2010 through 2022, said community and alumni support has been the key to a strong program. For decades, they have donated time, money and mentorship to the program and its students.
Leonard and Nellie Felty helped found the Plymouth-Shiloh FFA Alumni Buyers Club in 1994 while their son was in FFA. An alumni association followed in 2001.
“We sat at the fair, watched our kids get only pennies above market price when everybody else was getting a nice premium on their projects and my wife says, ‘We got to do something about this,’” Leonard recalled.
Since then, the group has spent almost $700,000 supporting the program.
“We raised that money locally. We had no big business to support us. Most of this is individual donations and fundraisers we’ve put on,” he added.
“Our parents and alumni members showed up for work nights to fix up the machinery shed. They helped build goat stands, attended auctions to help purchase shop supplies and farm equipment,” Ringler said.
“Perhaps the greatest impact this organization has is that it connects individuals, builds relationships and gets things done.”
Ringler said more than awards or programs, she prides herself on the opportunities FFA has provided for students.
From soil judging contests to state and national conventions, Cory Myers said FFA gave him a chance to see a lot of places he otherwise would not have.
“Even kids that aren’t farm kids are able to get involved, participate in contests and do their project work, go to the fair and just learn a lot of different life skills,” he said.
Todd Kranz, a 1979 graduate of Plymouth High School, said his status as an FFA alumni opened doors for him to travel internationally. Two years after his high school graduation, Kranz spent time working at a research station in the Netherlands while studying at the Ohio State University.
The former chapter president and state officer has continued to travel as chief development officer for Select Sires, a global cooperative serving the dairy and beef industry.
Kranz said the two biggest real world skills he learned in FFA were public speaking and parliamentary procedure. He recalled his surprise as a young college student when he found out most of his peers never learned to run a meeting.
“We just assumed everybody knew how,” he said. “We got to the university and it turned out no one but the kids from agriculture seemed to know how to run a meeting with parliamentary procedure – how to make a motion, how to run an orderly meeting, how to amend a motion — all the things that we kind of took for granted.”
Like Hoak, Kranz said he has plenty of cherished memories from his time in FFA. He strolled around the entrance of Plymouth-Shiloh Elementary School, looking at old photos and newspaper clippings that were on display.
“It brought back a lot of memories of the shenanigans we pulled, the fun we had training,” he said. “You trained all year to go to regional and then state contests. The contest itself was a lot of fun, but getting to and from the contest and spending a night in another city was always a lot of fun.”
Competitions and real-world experiences have remained a mainstay of FFA over the years.
Leonard Felty, who helped found the Plymouth-Shiloh FFA Alumni Buyers Club, said the breadth of opportunities has continued to grow. Students can specialize based on their interests, exploring topics like forestry, farm and agribusiness management, food science and technology, floriculture, landscape design and veterinary science, just to name a few.
For decades, The National FFA Organization was officially known as Future Farmers of America. The organization changed its name to FFA in 1988 to reflect a growing diversity and new opportunities in the industry.
“There’s so much in agriculture out there. There’s so many job opportunities,” Felty said. “It’s a big business.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that farm and ranch families make up just two percent of the U.S. population, but agriculture’s impact extends far beyond farming.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 10.5 percent of Americans were employed in agriculture, food and related industries in 2021, working 21.1 million full and part-time jobs.
Hoak signed up for FFA as an eighth grader after former Plymouth chapter advisor Laura Ringler encouraged her to give it a try. After graduation, she plans to study sustainable agriculture at the Ohio State University and become an agriculture industry lobbyist.
“Going into FFA, I didn’t really know what I wanted,” Hoak said. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.”