If you’ve eaten something good today, you might want to thank a farmer.
The National FFA Organization* program at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School is working to keep our food supply secure.
LFO FFA instructor Jordyn Cockburn got her first cow when she was in the third grade, and she was hooked. She raised and showed cows until she graduated from high school. She went on to earn a degree in agricultural education and moved from Toccoa to teach at LFO four years ago.
Wander toward the back forty at LFO (or maybe not quite that far) and you’ll find a 30-foot-by-90-foot greenhouse and a barn that houses a half dozen pigs and a cow. This is the center of LFO’s FFA program that Cockburn teaches and oversees.
The plants and animals are the personal responsibility of students in the program. One of the barn residents, Jimmy Dean, is a young, fuzzy black pig that belongs to student and FFA Club president Lindsey Marks. Marks must feed, water and clean her pig at least twice a day, every day, all year long. She also trains Jimmy Dean for livestock competitions, though she admits that training a pig can be a battle of wills.
In addition to her animal husbandry duties, Marks, as all students in the program, works in the school’s green house where club members grow ornamental and vegetable plants they sell to the public to help fund projects.
“I’ve always dreamed of living on a farm,” says Marks. “This program prepares me for that. We need more farmers in our future.” Marks says she has more of a passion for animals than for gardening, but she works hard in the greenhouse, too, in addition to executing her duties as president of the club.
Cockburn emphasizes that the FFA program is about a lot more than learning how to care for animals and plants, important as that is. “It’s also about leadership, business skills, learning how to get along with and encourage others,” she says. Students attend camps and conferences and learn skills like public speaking and parliamentary procedure, as well as the practical skills of farming.
LFO FFA and FCCLA** and Heritage High School FFA clubs recently shared a cabin at the FFA Georgia Summer Leadership Camp where the boys’ and girls’ teams won recognition as Leadership Teams of the Week. The awards are the result not of formal competition but of the week-long observations of camp teachers looking for excellence in sportsmanship, outreach, attitude, comportment and creativity.
Back home, students exhibit the same characteristics. They invite classmates to attend their monthly FFA club meetings and they hold events that are open to all students in the school, like their donut party and their outdoor water games.
Away from the barn and the greenhouse, students study the science behind the practices. They’re tested on plant identification and animal care, and learn practical business skills as they process orders for the bi-annual plant sales.
Kaelynn Hankins, secretary of the LFO FFA club, has a pig appropriately named Hank. “There’s nothing about this I don’t like,” she says. “I enjoy the responsibility of it.” Hankins aspires to become either a nurse or an agriculture teacher.
Tes Hitson, who has both a cow and a pig, is one of two vice presidents of the club. Pigs are paid for out of school funds, but students who want a larger animal have to finance the purchase themselves. Hitson, whose family owns cows, says her cow, Cobalt, was born in March and has been at the school barn for only a few days. “I plan to eventually take Cobalt home for breeding,” says Hitson. In the meantime, she’ll have to train her cow and her pig, Stormie, for shows, teaching them how to impress livestock judges.
The club’s other vice president is Tia Wise, who has a pig named Napoleon. “Napoleon likes ice cream cones from Sonic,” says Wise. Wise sees herself going into agriculture in the future, possibly specializing in breeding animals. But her one disappointment was related to the greenhouse. “I once had a sunflower that died,” she says.
John Kelly holds the title of Sentinel within the FFA club. “My eighth grade teacher got me interested in FFA,” he says. Kelly says he likes the experience of raising animals and finding ways to get them to cooperate with him. He has a pig named Dixie and says he’s sure he’ll be a farmer one day, dealing in both crops and animals.
All the students say the animals have very distinct personalities ranging from lazy to stubborn, crazy, bratty and calm.
The program’s greenhouse is more self-sustaining than its barnyard. It’s equipped with an automatic watering system and a thermostat tied into a ventilation system that triggers fans when the temperature gets too high. But the plants must be monitored and tended. Different types of plants need different kinds of care, which the students learn from their teacher.
Most of the plants are ordered as seedlings and raised to maturity, but the club grows ferns and Wandering Jews from seed. Students are responsible for certain plants just as they are for certain animals. Spring plants include flowers, vegetables and herbs. Fall plants include mums, pansies, violas and pumpkins.
Cockburn is passionate about the LFO horticulture and animal science programs and what they offer. She hopes to soon add a course that teaches students basic vet tech skills for pets, like grooming and caring for teeth. She envisions a program that will first serve the pets of teachers and eventually of some of the public. She’d even like to see a doggy daycare program at the school.
Club officers Hailey Webb (reporter), Tristen Bennett (treasurer) and Mason Mantooth (junior advisor) were not available for our interview. The LFO FFA program has 136 students participating.
If you think your LFO son or daughter would be interested in the program, you can contact Jordyn Cockburn through the school.
*The National FFA Organization was originally known as Future Farmers of America.
**FCCLA is the non-profit organization: Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.