Not only will 18-year-old Mackenzie Cunningham be the first DeLandite to join the state FFA — formerly known as the Future Farmers of America — since the 1950s, she will also be the first woman to ever join the organization’s executive board from this area.
Cunningham, a DeLand High School senior, will be sworn in as the Area 3 vice president next month. Area 3 includes eight counties from Volusia and Flagler counties all the way to Citrus and Hernando counties.
What began as Future Farmers of America, an organization that started in 1928 to promote the importance of farming and agricultural education, has become the National FFA Organization. FFA chapters exist across the country, and the hundreds of local chapters are represented by their state chapters, which, in turn, report to the national apparatus.
While FFA is typically referred to interchangeably as Future Farmers of America, the organization officially changed its name to “The National FFA Organization” in the 1980s.
“FFA is not just for students who want to be production farmers,” a page on the national organization’s website says. “FFA also welcomes members who aspire to careers as teachers, doctors, scientists, business owners and more. For this reason, the name of the organization was updated in 1988 after a vote of national convention delegates to reflect the growing diversity and new opportunities in the industry of agriculture.”
While local students interested in farming and raising livestock will feel at home in FFA, students with FFA experience often go on to have jobs in a number of different fields.
While not an incorporated FFA chapter, George Marks Elementary School also plans to launch an agricultural education program next school year.
While Cunningham won’t be formally elected vice president until next month, she’s the only student in the running who qualifies for the role. That’s thanks to hard work and a passion for what she does as a member of the DeLand FFA.
“She’s a very, very driven individual,” DeLand High School agriculture teacher Brett Brandner told The Beacon. “She’s one of those who don’t come along through any school program very often. She is driven to achieve goals, and it’s a once-a-decade kind of deal to have a kid there.”
Brandner would know — he’s taught agriculture for 27 years, and this is his 19th year teaching in DeLand.
As an area vice president, Cunningham will take her agricultural prowess to a higher level than she’s ever taken it before.
“Her responsibilities are to promote ag and ag education throughout Florida, and throughout the U.S., because she will travel extensively,” Brandner explained. “Our current organization is currently well over 20,000 members in Florida alone. It is governed and run by students.”
Cunningham will serve in the role for one year, and she will have to defer her college education by a year to do it. Once her time with the state FFA is up, Cunningham will attend Stetson University to study political science and pre-law.
“It’s going to be entirely worth it, because being selected as a candidate is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” Cunningham said.
She’s been involved in FFA for seven years now, getting her start at DeLand Middle School.
List of West Volusia chapters:
DeLand Middle School, DeLand High School, Galaxy Middle School, River Springs Middle School, Taylor Middle-High School, Deltona Middle School, Deltona High School, Pine Ridge High School, University High School
“The family element is what really drew me in when I was in middle school,” Cunningham said. “The officer team was like this little family, and it made me want to be a part of it. No matter where you stand in the FFA — whether you’re an officer or a member — you are a part of the family, and it welcomed me then and still welcomes me now.”
It’s not easy to qualify for a state position, Brandner said. Per Cunningham, it was one of the most difficult processes she has ever had to go through.
Part of the application included presenting her supervised agricultural experience projects, or SAEs. Cunningham presented two.
The first involved agricultural mechanics.
“I built barns, learned to weld and did some interior work as well,” Cunningham said.
Her second project researched the dietary habits of guinea pigs.
The process also included writing tests and other presentations.
Once Cunningham is sworn in as a state officer, she’s ready to hit the ground running.
“I’m going to be able to run leadership workshops, advocate for agriculture and be a role model for FFA members across the state of Florida,” Cunningham said, “but more than that, I get to be a part of something bigger than I could’ve imagined.”