Imagine this: Three years of agricultural education courses are required for all high school students in order to graduate, and teachers encourage their students to join FFA to develop skills that classes alone might not provide.
Sounds pretty ideal, right?
While that might not fly today, it did at Paint Rock Valley High School in the 1960s, and it was the perfect scenario for 1965 graduate Ron Putman.
Raised on a family farm in rural northern Alabama that grew corn, soybeans and cotton, and also raised pigs and cattle, Putman’s appreciation for farming sprouted early. Yet, it didn’t truly blossom until his high school vo-ag classes. He says he never expected a second act in life that would take him out of the office and into the field.
Growth Through FFA
While Putman was in FFA, his chapter completed many community service projects designed to strengthen agriculture and to grow leaders. In his freshman year of high school, Putman joined a couple of peers to create a project that would continue all four years of high school.
A few weeks prior to Christmas, the FFA members would cut down dozens of evergreen trees from local farms and transport them to farmers markets to sell to families. The project grew each year and became one Putman has never forgotten.
He recalls developing planning and problem-solving skills in the process.
“We had to develop a relationship with farmers who had trees on their land, trees that we could come in and cut,” Putman says. “There had to be a schedule, and there was a lot of planning, which was very important to learn.”
A Call to the Field
In 2005, after retiring from a career as a CPA, Putman saw an opportunity to get back into the field. A friend of Putman’s, Edward Chambers, lived next door to Dr. James Miller, who owned Miller’s Blueberry Farm, a U-pick farm that real estate developers had been moving closer and closer to buying out. Putman partnered with Chambers and his wife, Faye, to help protect Miller’s Farm. Today, Putman is the manager and operator of the blueberry farm and plans to keep it open as long as he is physically able.
“We literally partnered to keep this place as a destination for agritourism more than anything else,” Putman says. “It’s just amazing how many people come here. It’s a small farm, we only have 6 acres of blueberries, but we get over 1,000 visitors in a six-week period.”
If it weren’t for Putman’s FFA experience and agriculture classes, he doesn’t think he’d have been nearly as successful on the farm. Learning about the germination process and how to keep plants alive through actual practice when he was an FFA member has stuck with Putman to this day.
Now in his early 70s, Putman enjoys life as a blueberry farmer and beekeeper. He instructs and dances competitively, too. He loves giving back to the community by teaching teenagers the same skills he developed as an FFA member.
“You get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to pass on the knowledge you gained to others, who can then be rewarded by doing something they wanted to do,” he says.
“I want people to get into agriculture if they can,” he continues, “but we don’t all have to have 1,000 acres and a $250,000 tractor to be in agriculture. Even right here close to me, there’s a young guy who has a lettuce farm, and he grows stuff just for the local restaurants.”