by Lee Pitts

I hated it when the word “Farmer” was taken out of the name “Future Farmers of America.” The organization is still known as the FFA, but the “F” word (Farmer) was eliminated. I suppose they had to do it. After all, not many kids want to be farmers these days, and I suppose it would make fundraising easier. But it still irks me a little because I worked so hard to become one…a farmer, I mean.

Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at leepitts@leepittsbooks.com.

For the first ten years of my life, I was a town kid. Then we bought The Farm, a one-acre spread on the outskirts of the Lemon Capital Of The World. Oh, but it was a very productive acre! My first farming venture was to plant 76 tomato plants in an area the size of our kitchen table. With just one acre of ground, I had to make maximum use of the space available. So I raised rabbits in double-decker cages and grew orchids under the avocado trees. The orchids did better than the rabbits who lived on the bottom floor.

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On that one acre, I raised Grand Champion steers, registered Angus heifers, and always had a couple of lambs in the fattening process. The only real problem came when I attempted to raise a hog, and that wouldn’t have been a problem if my mom wasn’t a seamstress and if the hog would have stayed in her pen. The hog, who we called Pancakes, had the unfortunate habit of breaking out of her pen and popping out of the bushes about the time some elegant lady would come to the house for a fitting. The hog, by the way, got her name because the only way we could herd it back into the pen was for my mother to lure her in with a batch of her delicious pancakes.

My mother put up with the pig, fed my steers when I was gone, and drove the truck on FFA Roadside Clean-up because she wanted me to have every chance of fulfilling my dream of becoming a farmer. Kids at school ridiculed me by calling me the “F word,” and even some of my relatives cracked farmer jokes and were embarrassed that I wanted to be a farmer. Why couldn’t I be like my brother and go to West Point? Maybe grow up to be President someday. They must not have known that more farmers have been President of this country than any other profession except lawyers. And I think we might be a better country today if more farmers had been President and fewer lawyers.

I ate, breathed, and slept farming and ranching. And it darned near killed me. On my way to becoming a farmer/rancher, I fell over a 100-foot cliff in a truck and horse trailer. I almost burned to a crisp, I got bucked off a horse and landed head first in a rock pile, and I got stuck in a pub in Australia where the only thing they had to eat was chicken.

Everybody said a town kid could never make it in farming or ranching without a sizable inheritance or without owning land. But I did. It is the one thing in my life that I am most proud of. But when I finally made it to be a farmer, somebody decided that wasn’t a very noble title. We were now agribusinessmen or some other long name that just meant farmer or rancher. The word “farmer” had outgrown itself and had outlived its usefulness. It was the word never heard, to be whispered in mixed company…Shhhhhhhh!

And so, they took the word “Farmer” out of the FFA. The “F” is still in the name, but it’s silent, like a silent vowel. And it doesn’t stand for anything.

In this day and age, that seems ironic, doesn’t it?