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FFA club is blooming

The Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) Future Farmers of America (FFA) and agriculture programs are experiencing a transformation that is instilling positive change and growth in students.

This growth is the product of a year of hard work from students, parents and CuCPS FFA Advisor/ Agriculture Instructor Joshua Fleenor.

Fleenor became a part of the CuCPS team in October of 2019. The school’s agriculture program had gone through a period of several years in which teachers were coming and going. There was plenty of work to be done when Fleenor arrived.

From day one, Fleenor set out to establish change in the ag program, encouraging group participation and bringing a sense of creative unity to the club. FFA is part of the agriculture curriculum at the school, and he wanted to really inform kids of all FFA has to offer, creating structure and expanding the club by developing outreach to students who hadn’t considered it before.

“We really work hard to change the perception of what the agriculture program is to the students,” Fleenor said.

Fleenor said FFA gained seven new members last year, and both students and parents stepped up and helped out to make positive change take place.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, threw a wrench into things. The FFA, according to Fleenor, is meant to be a student-led organization. However, remote learning made club operations difficult as a structure wasn’t already in place for the club to navigate itself without heavy involvement from the advisor.

That hasn’t stopped progress, though. According to Fleenor, agriculture students at Cumberland have just finished the FFA unit in their first six to seven weeks of school. This education included covering parliamentary procedures, awards, degrees and other things FFA has to offer students.

He said the new online curriculum has been challenging but enjoyable.

The club was also able to meet once in person this summer for an informal banquet where club officers were recognized, the first time such an event was held for five years or more.

Fleenor said the club is preparing to partner with Delma’s Pantry in Cumberland in order to live out one of the most important parts of FFA — giving back to the community. The duo will hold a community stew and a Halloween trunk or treat this month.

Another key element of this year’s learning, Fleenor said, is getting students to all participate in SAEs (supervised agricultural experiences.)

The product of one of those SAEs is currently visible in the form of a giant sunflower as residents drive past the Cumberland Middle School.

The sunflower is a part of the 2020 Hay Bale Decorating Contest put on by the Virginia Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee.

Fleenor said the contest is typically done through the state fair which was canceled this year due to the coronavirus. Instead, this year’s entries are being judged virtually.

When parents forwarded Fleenor info on the contest he saw an opportunity to bring the kids together for their first big project.

“They all jumped on board,” he said.

Fleenor donated a hay bale from his own farm and used the school’s carpentry shop to cut giant petals out for the sunflower. Students gathered Saturday, Sept. 26, and together painted the petals and built the sunflower. He added students made sure to wear masks and socially distance in order to safely enjoy the activity.

In front of the hay bale the club chose to display an encouraging quote that they felt relates to the current crisis the world is facing: In a world full of darkness, be a sunflower.

Fleenor said the display will remain up for residents to enjoy well after the competition closes Nov. 1 unless weather takes it down sooner.