In an important step to ensure FFA is a place where all people can prepare for leadership and career success, the North Carolina School for the Deaf became the third FFA chapter in the nation for members who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Although the North Carolina School for the Deaf was established in 1894 and was once the site of a productive farm with massive vegetable gardens and a herd of dairy cattle, lessons about agriculture were not part of the curriculum.
“No one has ever been here to teach students about food and agriculture,” says Reid Ledbetter, the agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor at the North Carolina School for the Deaf. “Given the history of the land, it made sense to have an agricultural education program here.”
In 2018, as part of an effort to ramp up its career and technical education program, the North Carolina School for the Deaf launched an agricultural education program for students in middle and high schools. Ledbetter chartered the first FFA chapter in school history, which also became just the third school for the deaf in the nation to have an FFA chapter.
“FFA is about leadership, hands-on learning and STEM education,” Ledbetter says. “If we wanted to have a complete ag ed program, FFA needed to be part of it.”
Students Dig In
The North Carolina School for the Deaf FFA Chapter accomplished a lot in its first season. The 106-acre grounds sprouted a new garden and a high-tunnel greenhouse that produced fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage and blueberries. Younger students grew snow peas in a square bale garden.
Students are responsible for all aspects of production – from planting seeds to tending plants to harvesting. The gardens do not grow enough fresh fruits and vegetables to serve all of the students living on campus, so the produce is distributed to families of students through the onsite food bank. Students take bags of fresh food home on weekends. Growing food on the campus is about more than feeding families in need, Ledbetter says.
“Students learn best by getting out there and trying new things, so we try to incorporate as many hands-on activities as we can,” he says. “Most of the students at our school are from cities or urban areas and have never had these opportunities before.”
High school senior Rebecca Carson spent a lot of time among the cows, pigs, goats, horses, chickens and rabbits at her grandparents’ farm, but she appreciated classes on plant and animal sciences, and the chance to put those lessons into action on the school farm.
“My friends encouraged me to join FFA b