According to the FFA website, Monsanto, Pfizer (Monsanto’s pharmaceutical business), Cargill, Dupont and Syngenta donated millions of dollars to the FFA in 2013, and have been awarded “Platinum” and “Gold” sponsorship titles by the organization. In 2012, a press release from the FFA stated that these companies (and some others) had donated 16.8 million dollars to help “create critical educational opportunities for our students as they grow and learn about the science, business and technology of agriculture.” As a blogger for the Greenhorns who is also a farmer in a very rural area, I feel it necessary to briefly step out from my regular veil of anonymity and give a personal account of the trickle-down effect that I feel corporate sponsorship is having on one particular young student in my area.
I mentor a 14 year-old who wants to be a farmer when he gets out of high school. He comes over to my farm and helps me on
weekends and holidays, where we have long one-on-one discussions about what he’s learning in school. In his ag classes (FFA), he has learned about round-up ready corn/soy and how it is going to feed 9 billion people, yet nothing about the negative effects of farmer health when using chemicals or how wind-pollinated patents can take away your right to save seed. Save seed? I’ve slowly been introducing him to that concept. When I talk to him about all of this and many other aspects of my farm life, I can tell he is conflicted. He’s surrounded by a world where alternative or more natural farming methods are seen as “radical” and looked down upon. The future farmer of America who I mentor won’t go and tell his classmates about what he learned on a given day of working with me because he’s risking his precious/precarious place on the 8th grade FFA social ladder, yet he comes back to my farm every weekend to learn more. In my observations as a mentor, it is my opinion that the millions of agribusiness dollars being funneled towards the FFA are helping to rear a future generation of agricultural intolerance towards non-conventional ways of farming.
As future farmers and as greenhorns, we carry the responsibility of cultivating the next generation of food and farmers. Someone once said that the world is run by those who show up. If Big Ag is showing up in the schools, we’ve got to do something in order to introduce these kids to another option in farming. We may not have millions but we do have the ability to connect with younger generations in a way older generations cannot. We’ve got some leverage in just showing up. If a school near you has a local ag program, call them to see how you can get involved. Volunteers are rarely turned away.