TURLOCK -- The nation has put its faith in Future Farmers of America for 84 years, relying on it to teach young people how to farm and how to lead.
Faith has a particular meaning at Turlock Christian School, which last month became the first private school in California to start an FFA chapter.
That happened soon after leaders amended FFA's state constitution to expand beyond the public schools it has served for decades.
"That is definitely a positive thing, to come here and have this start up," said McCalister Russell of Hilmar, one of about 40 students taking the agriculture classes now available to Turlock Christian's high school division under FFA tutelage.
She talked about it during a class last week where students learned how to create a shade structure for some of the plants they will grow in the limited space on campus.
A couple of farmers have provided room for livestock projects, said ag teacher Hannah Ewing, who hopes to have a full-fledged student farm within a decade.
Program attracts students
The private school option is up to the leadership in each state, and 14 have chosen it, said Kristy Meyer, spokeswoman at FFA's national office in Indianapolis.
Turlock Christian joined at a time when FFA is thriving along with most of the ag economy. California had 70,523 members at last report, up from 67,842 two years ago. National enrollment is at 540,379.
Principal Kyle Fast said the chapter will help the school attract students who might have opted for public schools because of their FFA involvement. He and counselor Chuck Boswell said FFA's mission, with its emphasis on character development and career training, fits with Turlock Christian's goals.
FFA has plenty of Christian members across the nation, but it is a secular group, with no mention of God or Jesus in its mission statement or motto. The motto does include the phrase "living to serve," a nice match with the admonition to "serve others wholeheartedly" in the Turlock Christian mission statement.
The school is on the grounds of Monte Vista Chapel, which has offered space in its maintenance area for ag mechanics instruction.
The curriculum consists of introduction to ag and ag biology, a good part of it hands on. For one lesson, students planted carrots in two containers, one fertilized conventionally and one organically. They will compare the size, color and other traits.
"I didn't think I would like doing that, but I did," said student Jared Zuniga of Patterson, who hopes for a career involving animals in some way.
Groundwork for goals laid
Chapter President Whitney Sherron lives on a cattle ranch near Ballico and hopes to become an ag teacher. "You can grow plants," she said. "You can be in different projects. You don't have to just be in animals."
On the classroom walls last week hung posters about student projects, such as one that McCalister did on growing and selling lavender.
She is the chapter vice president and part of a dairy farming family near Hilmar.
"I really enjoy showing dairy cattle," she said. "It will be really cool if I can own my own dairy someday."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.