For nearly 90 years, the Future Farmers of America have been training the next generation of agriculturalists, and the Petaluma chapter has been at the forefront of that effort almost as long. Next year, the FFA will be celebrating its 90th anniversary since its founding in 1928.
“I feel like we just celebrated the 75th,” said Kim Arntz, agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Petaluma High School.
Arntz has been teaching at Petaluma High for 18 years. She is joined by Jake Dunn, who has been teaching at Petaluma High for five years. Both Arntz and Dunn are alumni of FFA and Petaluma High. With a proud history of chicken and dairy farms, Petaluma’s FFA has been contributed to this agricultural legacy since its beginning.
The first FFA meeting was Nov. 20, 1928, at a time when many feared that young people where losing interest in farming. It was held during American Royal Livestock Show at Kansas City, Mo. Later that year, Petaluma High School would join the schools that offered FFA classes. Before the FFA, Petaluma High had been offering agriculture classes since 1919.
The goal of FFA is to help students by teaching leadership, career skills and fostering personal growth. It is made up of state associations, which are made up of local chapters. Students involved get real-world workplace experience.
“It’s still important that we have the work force out there that can build our houses, weld and work on engines,” Dunn said. “We try to provide those basic skills to our students. Not just the tangible things, knowing how to do those skill, but the soft skills of showing up to work on time and being employable.”
The classes offered at the Petaluma High School program include welding, agricultural biology, art and history of floral design, veterinary science and wildlife management.
Students who are part of the FFA are required to be a part of a supervised agriculture experience program, in which members work at agriculture work sites to get on the job experience.
In addition to teaching agriculture, the department is also in charge of the local wildlife museum. The student-run Petaluma Wildlife and Natural Science Museum gives tours to about 3,000 elementary school students each year. But the audience has been expanding.
“Some of the senior homes from the local area and Marin County have been bringing tours in for the afternoon,” Arntz said.
The FFA takes part of the annual Butter and Eggs Day parade, a celebration of Petaluma’s heritage as the egg basket of the world. Students ride a float in the parade, and last year, they were the champion nonprofit group.
The FFA continues to inspire students. Arntz’s son Clayton, who is also part of the FFA, recently won the Dairy Production Placement Proficiency award at the 89th state FFA leadership conference in Fresno. Clayton won for his work experience at the Dolcini Jersey Diary at Nicasio in Marin County.
Arntz loves the opportunities and connection that the FFA gave her and wishes to help other students find that same inspiration.
“For many of us in education, it’s important for students to have other opportunities outside of sports or outside of ASP leadership type opportunities and for at least my son and many others that come before him, the FFA is their sports,” she said. “It’s their opportunity to shine and develop a plan for their future and the connection to the career they will have.”