Future Farmers of America chapters head to Iowa City schools

The School District has voted 4-3 to start a new agriculture-education program for high-school students.


Joseph Cress

School board member Phil Hemingway speaks during Iowa City school board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.

Aadit Tambe, News Reporter

Next year, Iowa City School District students will be offered a new agriculture-education program and the option of joining a Future Farmers of America chapter. 

The School Board has voted 4-3 to establish the program.

The Iowa FFA Association will establish a presence at City High, West High, and Liberty High, School Board member Phil Hemingway said.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Iowa FFA Executive Director Scott Johnson said he’s pleased the district is implementing the program.

“I commend the Iowa City School District on making the tough decision to move forward with investing in a program that opens up new opportunities to its students instead of more of the same,” he said.

There are 235 career options in agriculture, he said, many of which are in demand and not directly associated with farming.

The School Board is looking for an agriculture teacher for the spring semester, said School Board member J.P. Claussen. Students will be able to enroll in the program starting in the 2019-20 academic year.

The School Districts of West Branch, Lone Tree, and Mid-Prairie have FFA programs. The Clear Creek/Amana district introduced one early this year.

“This program is important to us because of the opportunity it provides our students,” Hemingway said. “We are [also Iowa’s] fifth-largest School District.”

I commend the Iowa City School District on making the tough decision to move forward with investing in a program that opens up new opportunities to its students instead of more of the same.

— Scott Johnson, executive director of Iowa FFA

The budget for the program will largely depend on the instructor hired, School District Assistant Superintendent Matt Degner said. The basic infrastructure is in place.

“Ag education is very broad …” Hemingway said. “[It] can be everything from learning about farming to practices in finance [to] software development.”

He said the FFA program has an emphasis on soft skills, public speaking, presentation skills, and work ethic. This often gets missed in the discussion about ag education.

FFA is a huge national association, Hemingway said. It will provide Iowa City students the opportunity to take part in several conferences and networking events. It will also give students the opportunity to work locally in agriculture.

“We want to get the word out that farming is important,” Claussen said. “However, it’s a very broad field, and some of what’s going on in agriculture has been the cutting edge of science.”

Retaining educated people in the state is a problem we face in Iowa, he said. Ag-education programs such as these will help solve the problem.

“We heard some criticism from people … who had a narrow view of agriculture,” Claussen said. “And I believe there is a bit of an attitude that Iowa City is a college-prep School District.

“We are going against this attitude, and I think that’s where the education piece comes in. This is more than farming, and these are opportunities for all kids.”

Opponents of the program will see its benefits with time, Hemingway said.

“Most students [who typically] take part in FFA programs are urban students,” he said. “Only a few live on farms.”

Whenever people start a new program, they have to give it time, Claussen said, and he is optimistic that the program will do well.

“Our board has a policy and a practice that once we make a decision, everybody gets on board [with it],” he said. “The vote passed, and now we’re moving forward.”