READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL
You have been succinctly warned, if you choose to read my story, do not pass judgement on the tale till the end.
TALE OF THREE TREES
It had been 20 years since the storm.
Two middle-aged men gathered together under a beautifully budding tree, reminiscing back on the days of their youth.
“Gosh, Todd, I can’t believe how much crap we got away with back then!” hooted the early graying man, “I’d skin my own kids for that stuff today!”
“You are so right…those were the days weren’t they Chris?” said the other man closing his eyes as he pressed his back into the tree, smiling back on those memories.
“So I heard your Ag Teacher Ms. Wright is retiring this year?” asked Chris, “Bet she’ll be missed there at the school!”
“You have no idea!” shouted Todd as he straightened up off the trunk, “Hey, I heard your Ag teacher Mr. Stoneheart is retiring this year too!”
“Oh yeah, he is. I guess, I kind of lost track of them out there…” Chris’ face turned slightly sour as he thought back to those days, “We were really a competitive chapter, it was fun, but I don’t remember half the stuff anymore. Shoot do you remember when fruit trees were the big thing for all those Ag departments at the time?”
“Yes, that was my SAE actually!”
“No kidding, same here!” both men gave out youthful laughs that hadn’t been heard for sometime, “I’ll never forget, Mr. Stoneheart had every student plant a fruit tree at their house. I choose a pear tree.”
Todd began to chuckle, “Yes, Ms. Wright had us doing the same thing, I think my first tree was a pear too!”
“Did you ever take your fruit tree to a contest?” asked Chris.
“There was a contest for that?” Todd said looking a little puzzled and beginning to feel like he missed out on something.
“Yeah, shocked Ms. Wright never took you, it didn’t go on for very long, two or three years before the storm at least.”
“How did it work Chris?” Todd now a little fascinated.
“Well, Mr. Stoneheart, spent at least a year raging that it was completely unacceptable there was not a contest for fruit tree judging. He said it was not fair for us not to be recognized for the efforts we were putting into our mini-orchards. So they had it setup where we would dig up our fruit trees and bring them to the contest.”
“Wait what…you would dig up the fruit trees?” Todd again looked puzzled, “What would you do after the judging?”
“Well you planted a new fruit tree of course for next year’s contest. The root balls would become so badly damaged during the digging process that the tree wouldn’t last much longer than a few days, so you had to strategically dig it two days prior to contest to make sure there was still enough turgidity in the leaves for judging, that was just one of the judging traits, along with trunk straightness, branching points, and branching angle; there were a few more, but I’ve forgotten them.”
“So fruit trees generally, don’t produce fruit for three or four years, seems like a waste, I mean not trying to diss what you all did —,” Todd couldn’t finish before Chris chimed in.
“I think you totally missed the point of that portion of judging,” declared Chris looking slightly annoyed, “We were judging early stock, there were other divisions, such as first year producer and peak producer. Man, were those the days, scouting the county for trees at those different production stages and then cutting them down to bring to contest, it was a chore, but those plaques are still hanging proudly in our classroom, I guess in the end it was worth it! Like I said, for how good of an Ag teacher Ms. Wright was, I’m shocked she let you miss out of that opportunity.”
“I mean, I learned a lot from Ms. Wright, especially after the storm,” Todd said shrugging trying to not let the thoughts of missing out annoy him too badly. Yet the thought of why had Ms. Wright kept this from us? Kept nagging in Todd’s head.
“Yeah, that storm ruined everything…” Chris’ voice began wavering, “What damage that blast of wind caused, I can’t even remember the final declared mph for that storm, but it devastated everything in its path. Were you all affected by it too?”
“Certainly, this whole region got slammed over the course of three consecutive days by that hail and wind, the worst storm we had ever experienced for sure, they called it a century storm. You said the storm cancelled the contest?”
“Yes, so many trees had been downed, all our prospect trees were destroyed and our new plantings were bare sticks. Mr. Stoneheart was devastated for us, he felt horrible he had to cancel the contests and thought especially of us Seniors, the storm swept through a week before the contest. The contests never happened again to my knowledge, but it didn’t hurt anything, they moved on to honeybee judging next. What did you all do?”
“It did a lot of damage for sure, I had around ten fruit trees at the time, all were destroyed and I had actually gotten my first set of fruits from three of the trees only the year before. I was bummed, but Ms. Wright worked with us in getting some chapter funding to help us who had orchards destroyed by the storms.”
“Wow, that’s cool that she helped you all get back up and started!”
“It really did mean a lot. Doing it the second time though was worth it, we learned what we had done wrong in the beginning regarding soil preparation and fertilization, so we made changes to those and selected a little less exposed planting site for my orchard.”
“Dang sounds like you all really made something of a pretty bad deal…I guess though we got plaques in our classroom, at least I think they are still hanging there, what do you have to show from that ag class?”
“We’re sitting beneath it,” smiled Todd as they both looked up at the imposing budding pear tree.
It has been an interesting conversation to watch unfold on the KAAE Moodle Discussion Board regarding the efforts of putting on contests. Though the above tale is not anywhere near the sincere reality and struggle we are all facing (and nor should the tale be viewed as a belittling of the efforts of so many who are helping students be recognized for their efforts throughout the year). Yet, it does present us with some provocative questions to ponder at a later time:
- What is the sincere purpose of our Agricultural-based competitions?
- What are the long-term contributions of contests for our members and their futures?
- What about our members who are not motivated by competition? Do we address their needs equally in this organization?
- FFA is and must be intra-curricular, but do contests play an oversized role in dictating our curriculum and leads us to disregard addressing the needs of our members and community?
- Are there other aspects in our great organization we need to be valuing more?
- When traditional contests are not an option, what is motivating our members?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but when the dust settles, it may be time to give a hard look at reflecting on our intentions/purpose as Agricultural educators in respect to our contests and I’m included in this mix too!
I’ve got posted in my journal a sticker that reads, “Never underestimate the power of an agriculture teacher.” I am daily inspired by the passion/dedication of this profession and there is no class of peers I’d rather call family! Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy!
Take care, Anthony