Future Farmers of America students learn that the ability to raise animals and crops are not just part of our local heritage, they are part of our country's future.
"There seems to be some doubt as to whether there is a future for agriculture in the United States of America," said Wendell Stevens, agriculture education teacher and assistant vocational director at Payson High School.
"There is some doubt as to whether there are going to be employment opportunities in the future."
Stevens thinks there will be a place for animal science, resource management and horticulture. He teaches his students about companion animals like horses, household pets and guide dogs. The job market for veterinarians, groomers and others who care for these animals is growing, he said. An added benefit for children whose life skills include learning to care for pets or livestock is that these skills can be used later in life when they become parents.
FFA at Payson High School focuses mostly on animal science because students are not as interested in horticulture.
Currently in and out of the classroom, FFA students, some who are also 4-H club members, are caring for livestock. These are animals they will enter, show and maybe sell at the Northern Gila County Fair in September. Membership in 4-H is not an FFA requirement, but the two programs mesh, each strengthening the other.
FFA student Doug Marks comes from a Tonto Basin ranching family. He purchased his steer last October as a calf, weighing in at 720 pounds. The steer now weighs between 850 and 875 pounds, and will need to add at least 100 more pounds by mid-September.
Marks feeds his steer a product with corn and molasses as two of the ingredients to help the steer gain weight.
All animals entered into the county fair receive numbered tags on their ears. The tags prevent fair participants from buying 10 animals and choosing the one they are going to show at the last minute.
Livestock entered in the fair must be properly cared for. Besides feeding, watering and grooming, hooves must be trimmed and the animals must be taught to walk on a lead.
The highest bidder pays a per-pound price at fair, plus a rendering fee for the processing of the animal. The livestock committee handles the arrangements. Students get to keep the money they net on the sale of their livestock. Many use their profit for their school savings account, Stevens said.
"What we are trying to teach the student is responsibility and taking care of the animal they chose... We want the student to feed and care for that animal all the way through the process," Stevens said.
Students chose their steers in December 2004 and January 2005 for this year's fair in September. Hogs were chosen in May 2005.
Jessie Wadell is raising her first hog. Previously she has competed with horses as part of 4-H. At the Pine Fair two years ago she won All-Around Showmanship for horses.
Now a senior and the president of FFA, she said she is pleased that 61 freshman have joined the club.
Although much smaller than the animal science program, the horticulture program is alive and well.
"We have hydroponic tomatoes growing in the green house," Stevens said.
The two raised vegetable beds outside the FFA building are the responsibility of Mike Wicks.
"I had to run watering pipes to both beds and the (fruit) trees as part of my independent study project," Wicks said. That was last school year and his second in FFA.
This is Wicks' first time growing squash. Over the summer he added topsoil and tilled the beds before planting them. He has seven plants. Wicks said a friend who had only two plants told him he probably won't be able to get rid of all the squash his plants will produce.
He said he didn't know if he would be entering any plants in the upcoming fair, but he will be selling his cucumbers and squash this fall.