Creating change with only two black FFA teachers in Arkansas

Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 10:29 PM CDT
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BAY, Ark. (KAIT) - A major economic driving force in the Natural State is agriculture.

The industry brings in around $16 billion each year according to Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Agriculture is vital to everyday life, but when you look into who makes up that industry, it’s not so diverse.

Nestled in northeast Arkansas between open roads and fields sits Bay High School.

That is where you find Nadea Massey. Massey is the Future Farmers of America Agriculture Educator at the high school.

She is one of only two African Americans in the entire state of Arkansas that teach the course. There are more than 300 total teachers in the state.

This is her first year at Bay and she is already seeing the impact of her presence. She explained how one of the few black students she teaches expressed how he wanted the school year to go.

“I asked the class as a whole, how they wanted the classroom to feel and one of the things he said was equal,” she said. “I want you to think about the fact that I am just like you and I look just like you. So, everything that you go through, I go through and I see it.”

When she went through FFA in college. She said seeing someone that looked like her in the organization was rare.

“I was in FFA for three years and I can count on my hand how many other African American FFA members there were, there weren’t that many.”

In an industry that takes the state by storm as a major economic contributor. the diversity is far behind.

“We are not seeing a lot of minority students entering agricultural careers and I think part of that is because there are not minority teachers,” said Jennifer Cook, Foundation Director for FFA.

Cook said the lack of diversity was the first thing she noticed when she began her position as foundation director. The organization is now working to get funding to change the scope of who is in the agriculture industry.

Only around 11,000 of the 2 million employed Arkansans are in the agriculture industry according to United States Census Bureau data.

Now, two universities are going through the process of applying for a grant to attract more minority students.

“To get students to think about agriculture as a viable career,” said Dr. Nina Crutchfield, assistant professor of agricultural education at Arkansas State University.

Agriculture Departments at Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff are working on a USDA grant to create more diversity in the industry.

The grant is the 1890 Capacity Building Grant, which is intended to fund programs in food and agriculture sciences at 1890 land grant institutions.

“We’ll recruit 5 students on their campus to be agriculture education majors. They will complete all of their agricultural technical content and general eds on the UAPB campus. Then for two summers they will come to ASU Jonesboro and we will provide all of the agriculture education courses,” said Crutchfield.

By the time those five students complete their coursework, they would graduate as licensed agricultural teachers.

Both Crutchfield and Cook quoted the saying ‘hard to be what you can’t see’ when speaking about the impact of creating more opportunities for minority students.

Massey said everyone should be represented in the agriculture industry.

“Anyone can be in Ag, no matter your shape, your look, your size, your color, any learning disabilities you have. I think agriculture is for everyone because everyone needs agriculture,” she said.