CLEMSON — Those who don’t believe in perpetual motion machines have never been to a South Carolina FFA convention.

Take more than 900 high school students. Suit them up in spiffy, matching blue corduroy jackets. Pack them into a Clemson University auditorium and crank up the volume in the speakers.

FFF Convention

South Carolina FFA members take the stage like rock stars at their state convention held annually at Clemson.
Image Credit: Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture

With all due respect to the first law of thermodynamics, energy indeed can be created.

The 91st annual convention of the S.C. FFA Association drew members from all 46 South Carolina counties who share the same passion: a future in the state’s largest industry.

While other teen groups unite around sports, music or other activities, FFA members join in pursuit of a lifetime career. Formerly called the Future Farmers of America, FFA abbreviated its name decades ago as a nod toward the hundreds of agricultural careers that exist off the farm.

“Many of them are still future farmers, but they’re also future biologists, chemists, horticulturists, food scientists, veterinarians, engineers and entrepreneurs,” said William Keels, state director of agricultural education for South Carolina secondary schools. “FFA provides them a path to achievement in leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”

That’s why you’ll find these teens sharing their summer with the likes of state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers.

FFA jackets

FFA members in their traditional blue corduroy jackets line the aisles as officers enter the S.C. FFA convention.
Image Credit: Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture

“I’ve served as commissioner of agriculture as long as some of you have been living, and somewhere out there I know I’m looking at the South Carolina agriculture commissioner in 20 years,” Weathers told the teens in a darkened, packed Brooks auditorium on the Clemson campus.

“If you take all of agriculture and forestry, it’s the largest industry in South Carolina — more than all the cars and airplanes and tires; more than all the tourists,” he said. “Those of us who work for agriculture are always looking for ways to improve. Agriculture is constantly creating new careers.”

Agriculture also finds new advocates in the young people who aspire to keep it healthy, a commodity much needed as the American population increasingly becomes urbanized, said George Askew, Clemson vice president for public service and agriculture.

“The importance of FFA grows every year. We have fewer people today who understand where food comes from, what it takes to grow and produce it,” Askew told the students. “We count on people like you to share the knowledge you gain.”

Because they are designed and conducted to meet specific local needs, FFA clubs and the school agricultural education programs that sustain them are a highly individualized lot. But they share a communal sense — deep in their bones — of hands-on learning. The kind of learning that gets your hands dirty. An education summed up in their motto, “Learning to Do.”

It’s an experience explained not only by their teachers, but by the students themselves.

New state FFA officers are (left to right, top row): Payton Busbee (Abbeville chapter), Jessie Comer (York chapter), Erica Wearing, president (Seneca chapter). (Bottom row): Mariah Swygert (Batesburg-Leesville chapter), Emily McDaniel (McBee chapter), Amanda Taylor (Battery Creek chapter).

New state FFA officers are (left to right, top row): Payton Busbee (Abbeville chapter), Jessie Comer (York chapter), Erica Wearing, president (Seneca chapter). (Bottom row): Mariah Swygert (Batesburg-Leesville chapter), Emily McDaniel (McBee chapter), Amanda Taylor (Battery Creek chapter).
Image Credit: Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture

“Sometimes we make a bigger mistake by avoiding the opportunity to make mistakes at all. If we don’t make mistakes, how do we learn?” Allison Harmon, who retired as the 2017-2018 FFA state secretary at the convention, told her peers. “Making mistakes is an opportunity to grow. Never miss an opportunity to take chances, make mistakes and get messy!”

Keith Cox, who retired as executive director of the South Carolina FFA Association shortly after the June convention, devoted his career to helping students take those chances.

“If there’s anybody who fits that ‘Learning to Do’ motto, it’s Keith Cox,” said S.C. State Rep. David Hiott, chairman of the state House agriculture committee, as he presented Cox a House resolution honoring him. “What this says is, ‘Thank you for what you have done for so many people.’ ”

The standing ovation that followed — 900 teenagers strong — set a record for heartfelt sincerity.

All that was left was a challenge. It came from Breanna Holbert, a California college student and national FFA president. In the perpetual motion machine, Holbert is the highest gear.

“It’s amazing what FFA can do if we’ll take one opportunity,” she said. “The more times we tell ourselves we can’t, the farther away we get from our goal. The more times we tell ourselves we can, the closer we get to our goal.

“What will you say ‘I can’ to next?”

Annual conventions also present a time to honor achievement of students and FFA chapters around the state. Here is a list of S.C. FFA awards and scholarships presented in the 2018 meeting:

Retiring 2017-2018 State Officers

Philip Rhodes – Calhoun Falls – President
Allison Harman – Gilbert – Secretary
Lauren Kirkley – McBee – Vice President
Matthew Bonnette – Center for Advanced Technical Studies – Vice President
Samantha Parker – Pendleton – Vice President
Christle Tindall – Edisto – Vice President

2018-2019 State Officers

Erica Wearing – Seneca – President
Mariah Swygert – Batesburg-Leesville – Secretary
Amanda Taylor – Battery Creek – Vice President
Jessica Comer – York – Vice President
Payton Busbee – Abbeville – Vice President
Emily McDaniel – McBee – Vice President

REGIONAL INDIVIDUAL AWARD WINNERS

Piedmont Region
Justin Michael Allen – Pendleton

Mid-State Region
Gracie Herrin – Strom Thurmond

Pee Dee Region
Keon Singletary – Conway

Lower State Region
Hayden Lafontaine – Barnwell County Career Center

2018 PROFICIENCY AWARD-WINNERS

Agricultural Communications: Dessie Smith – Crescent
Agricultural Education: Jason Smith – Pendleton
Agricultural Processing: Torry Kelley – Crescent
Agricultural Sales – Entrepreneurship: Mackenzie Campbell – Clover
Beef Production- Entrepreneurship: Catherine Faulkner – Clover
Beef Production – Placement: Calen Rainey – Crescent
Dairy Production -Entrepreneurship: Constance Gambrell – Crescent
Diversified Agricultural Production: Dawton Davis – Aynor
Diversified Crop Production – Placement: Gracie Herrin – Strom Thurmond
Diversified Horticulture: Cale Craig – Aynor
Diversified Livestock Production: Cody Clary – Saluda
Equine Science – Entrepreneurship: Abi Clinkscales – Crescent
Equine Science – Placement: Samantha Parker – Pendleton
Forage Production: William Bowman – Crescent
Forest Management and Products: Brooklyn Latham – Crescent
Goat Production: Josh Bobo – Belton-Honea Path
Grain Production – Placement: Carson Strickland – Aynor
Home and/or Community Development: John Ammons – Pendleton
Landscape Management: Jared Carnes – Crescent
Outdoor Recreation: Matthew Finch – Nation Ford
Poultry Production: MaKayla Kelley – Crescent
Small Animal Production and Care: Sydney Lewis – Conway
Specialty Crop Production: Ethan Gore – Aynor
Swine Production – Entrepreneurship: Lydia Swygert – Batesburg-Leesville
Swine Production – Placement: Dawson Richardson – Aynor
Turf Grass Management: John Adams – Crescent
Vegetable Production: Justin Allen – Pendleton
Veterinary Science: Kaitlyn Christenbury – Crescent
Wildlife Production and Management: Noah Smith – Crescent

SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS

Hilton V. Rogers Memorial Scholarship
Joshua Bobo – Belton-Honea Path

SC Young Farmer and Agribusiness Association Scholarships

$500
William Justin Price – Clinton FFA
Samantha Parker – Pendleton FFA

$1000
Gracie Herrin – Strom Thurmond FFA
Payton Busbee – Abbeville FFA

NATIONAL CHAPTER AWARDS

Gold Chapters
ATEC – Kershaw County
Belton – Honea Path
Buford
Calhoun Falls
Crescent
Lakewood
Lexington-Richland 5
Nation Ford
Pickens County Career & Technology Center
Seneca
Strom Thurmond
W.J. Keenan

Silver Chapters
Ashley Ridge
Aynor
Batesburg-Leesville
Carolina Forest
Clinton
Clover
Colleton County
R.D. Anderson Applied Technology Center
West Oak

Bronze Chapters
Conway
Gilbert

PERCENT MEMBERSHIP AWARDS

75 Percent Membership
Union County

85 Percent Membership
Abbeville
Ware Shoals
West Oak

90 Percent Membership
Applied Technology Education Campus – Kershaw County

100 Percent Membership
Anderson I & II Career and Technology Center
Ashley Ridge
Barnwell County Career Center
Chesterfield
Crescent
Greer
Landrum
Landrum Middle
Lexington Technology Center
Loris
McBee
Pendleton
Ridge Spring – Monetta
W.J. Keenan

100% Plus Membership
Andrew Jackson
Aynor
Batesburg Leesville
Belton Honea Path
Calhoun Falls
Clinton
Colleton County
Gilbert
Indian Land
Laurens District 55
Lee County Area Vocational School
Lexington-Richland 5
Manning
Pickens County Career & Technology Center
R.D. Anderson Applied Technology Center
Socastee
Strom Thurmond
Walhalla
York