For many families attending the Delaware State Fair the focus is on the fun food, rides and entertainment, but the purpose of the summer tradition is to further Agricultural education and awareness. A large part of this mission is accomplished by several local Future Farmers of America (FFA) groups throughout Delaware. This year, Milford brought over 40 students from Milford High School and 15 students from Milford Central Academy to show animals and compete in agricultural competitions from showmanship to tractor driving.
“[The Fair] gives the kids an opportunity to showcase a lot of things they have learn in class and they can apply that,” said Chris Stahl, FFA Advisor at Milford High School. “They also show responsibility, they have been working for months to take care of these animals and now its culminating here.”
Refining their skills in the showing and sale of livestock, building displays, tractor driving and public speaking, these students learn that the agricultural industry is much more than farming. Stahl states that the competition allow FFA students to learn a lot about life and themselves.
“The most rewarding thing is the showmanship, we all placed top 5 and it is so much fun to work with such big animals,said Julia Adams. “To have small Milford kids working in such a big industry is really rewarding.”
“Sometime it works out that they win a lot of stuff, sometimes it works out that they don’t win a lot of stuff but it’s still a great lesson in responsibility,” said Stahl. “…how to handle success and how to handle failure, while having to be responsible for something other than yourself.”
At the Delaware State Fair several students also have the opportunity to learn real life lessons about the economy that surrounds the agricultural industry as they take their animals to market. During the school year the FFA program purchases pigs, goats and other livestock that become part of the living classroom where students raise animals in the barn, located behind Milford High School. Students Julie Walls, Julia Adams and Sara Stevenson raised three pigs at the MHS barn this school year,.
“They were about two months old when we got them, when we first got them they were 40 pounds, They have to be between 220-290 to go to market so they have grown quite a bit in just over six months,” said Julie Walls. “The best part about the Fair is working as a team to clean pens and show our pigs, we are able to share the responsibility while having fun.”
Students began taking care of animals at the Milford High School in the beginning of March as they feed, bathed and cared for the animals themselves. The demands of live animals is quite different than the usual homework or book report as these animals need constant care day in and day out, early in the morning and late at night. At the Fair, students that take their livestock to market, auction off their animals live and receive cash from the winning bid. The students pay back the FFA for the initial payment the organization invested and the students keep the remaining money. It is a tangible reward for their months of work to raise, show and market their animal.
“There are a lot of great opportunities and I feel like raising pigs to slaughter gives you a kind of respect for what you eat and gives you more of an understanding of agriculture and what it takes to put food on your table,” said Sara Stevenson.
For MHS FFA Advisor Caitlin Walton this lesson for students is critical to understanding the importance of the Agricultural industry. “The first thing we want to do is just expose them to agriculture because that’s the basis of our society, so many kids just don’t get exposed to that in classes or in their communities. They go to their grocery stores and don’t know where the meat comes from.”
Many of the students involved with FFA will not ultimately end up in a career in Agriculture but all students are taught skills that will ultimately prepare them for whatever career field they choose. “ We also teach them leadership skills, how to talk to the public and getting them ready for whatever it is they are going to go into,” said Walton. “A lot of these kids are not going to go into Ag and that is fine. In FFA we want these kids to be successful in anything that they do, whatever they want to be.”