FFA jackets to spiff up Smithsonian 'American Enterprise' exhibit

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 - Five of the corduroy jackets worn with pride by members of the National FFA Organization - formerly the Future Farmers of America - will be part of a Smithsonian exhibition devoted to “American Enterprise.”

The jackets - including one given to a former president, peanut farmer and FFA member Jimmy Carter - will go on display next summer in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian accepted the jackets, part of the FFA's official dress since 1933, in a July 25 ceremony in Washington. Curator Peter Liebhold said in selecting the jackets, the Smithsonian “really tried to represent the wide variety of experiences” one can have within FFA. The jackets will be displayed one at a time and rotated “a couple times a year” to illustrate different aspects of FFA. 

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The 8,000 square foot “American Enterprise” exhibition will tell the story of  the nation's path in business chronologically through the Merchant Era (1770s-1850s), the Corporate Era (1860s-1930s), the Consumer Era (1940s-1970s) and the Global Era (1980s-present day).

Agriculture will be highlighted along with manufacturing, retail and service, information technology and finance. The exhibition will include “a hands-on multimedia experience” called the “Farming Challenge” in which visitors will enter a replica of a modern tractor cab, complete with a steering, wheel, guidance controls and yield monitors.

Liebhold said the Smithsonian's previous efforts at portraying agriculture provided a “romantic look” at the sector from the era of horse-drawn plows. He is hopeful the portrayal in the “American Enterprise” exhibition will be a much more realistic view of modern farming.

“It would be impossible to look at agriculture without looking at organic, without looking at biotechnology, without looking at trade issues,” Liebhold said. “All three of those are taken on in the exhibition.”

Liebhold said the exhibition will go as far as displaying a genetically modified Roundup Ready seed block next to a display of anti-GMO objects. He said he sees the role of the exhibition as “providing a safe place for difficult questions.

“Right now, there are a lot of discussions in the media that are people shouting at each other,” Liebhold said. “What we want is a quieter place . . . where people can have an engaged conversation and find out that there's a tremendous middle ground.”

The FFA jackets may help to spur those conversations. One was donated by Corey Flournoy, the organization's first African-American national president (1994-1995), as well as the first president from an urban area. Flournoy said he never considered a career in agriculture before enrolling at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, but attributed many of the successes in his life to his involvement in FFA.

“Although the jacket represents a great time in my life, at the end of the day it is an article of clothing,” Flournoy said. “I have great memories and pictures of everything else, so I was very happy to share this with the museum.” Flournoy now works as the director of the Illinois Center for Urban Agricultural Education, promoting agriculture to urban students unsure of their career choices. He said the display of a jacket from the nation's largest student organization - current membership is nearly 580,000 - could help with the dialogue Liebhold mentioned.

The other jackets came from Jesse Godbold, an agricultural educator, extension director and operator of a Florida Century Pioneer Family Farm; Karlene Lindow Krueger, of Chili, Wisconsin,  the first female Star Farmer - the highest award an FFA member can receive; and from Mary Louise Reynnells, who now works with the USDA National Agricultural Library. Reynnells' jacket was a “Chapter Sweetheart” jacket from the Pacific High School FFA Chapter in San Bernadino, California.

In addition to the exhibit, scheduled for display for at least 20 years, an online portal - the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive - was developed to allow the public to read or submit their stories of their own experience of youth agricultural education.

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