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4-H and FFA Frame a Life of Agricultural Education

By Chris R. Gonzalez

Amber Davis grew up caring for animals at her home in Carteret County, North Carolina. Her involvement in first 4-H and then FFA helped pave the way for her new job as a senior educational consultant for the National FFA Organization (formerly known as the National Future Farmers of America). 

“I was a diehard 4-H kid growing up. I have been in 4-H since I was 5 years old. I joined as soon as I was old enough,” Davis said.

That eagerness to be involved, to do the hard work of caring for and showing animals, and to encourage others to use all the assets available through agricultural education, 4-H and FFA, are a central theme of Davis’ life.

From the first livestock and horses she showed, her path included middle school, high school and collegiate involvement with FFA and 4-H.

Davis says her parents, a Marine and a homemaker, made sure she and her two older brothers took responsibility for animals on their farm.

Amber Davis when she was young with her horse at a 4H show
Davis with her childhood horse in 2003 at the NC State 4-H Horse Show

“We were there daily to feed our animals, make sure that they were well cared for and had everything they needed. We practiced with them every day. I learned a lot about responsibility,” she said.

Her first experiences were in showing goats, pigs and horses with 4-H in her elementary years.

“My FFA career started at Newport Middle School near Morehead City. When I was in high school, I did FFA for two years at Croatan, where I graduated, but I actually took ag classes at West Carteret during my junior and senior years. I like to claim both chapters,” she said.

Because friends and her oldest brother attended North Carolina State University, Davis gravitated there, too.

“I knew a lot about NC State because of my involvement in 4-H. Almost 20 years ago, I began attending 4-H Congress on campus at NC State, and we got to stay in the dorm room and kind of be a college student for a week, so I was very familiar with the campus. And I knew it had a great agriculture program. I picked ag ed because I wanted to do something that would get me in front of future generations and teach them about agriculture, whether that was in the classroom or not,” she said.

Amber Davis in college riding a horse as part of the Equestrian Team
Davis showing a horse in 2010 as part of the NC State Western Equestrian team

Davis’ participation in agriculture didn’t stop when she started her studies at NC State. She showed horses for NC State and was on the Western equestrian team. She also helped her mom launch a business back on the family farm.

“When I was in my freshman year at State, my mom and I put this dream together of turning the family farm into an agritourism business. It’s a petting zoo farm called The Barnyard,” she said.

Davis said with the farm’s location near Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach, a lot of vacationers who want a break from the sand come to explore the farm and pet animals. She loves meeting visitors from all over.

Davis graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s in agricultural science. She has had an important role as a teacher, reviving some FFA programs, creating new ones and fulfilling at least one dream, starting ag education classes at an elementary level.

Her first job out of college was with N.C. Cooperative Extension in the 4-H program in Craven County, where she worked for three years. She then had the opportunity to be an ag teacher at a Carteret County high school.

“I started out at West Carteret, which was great because that’s where I did FFA. I came in temporarily to take over for a teacher that left mid-semester. That is what started me back on an ag ed track, so I enrolled at NC A&T to get my master’s in agriculture education so I could get my teaching license,” she explained.

She then took a full-time position at Havelock High School for two years, where she helped revive FFA.

“They had an FFA chapter that had gone dormant. So I got to bring some life back into their agriculture program and get their FFA chapter back going. It was really fun just to be able to start something again,” she said.

Following that assignment, Davis had the opportunity to work at a charter school and fulfill another dream.

“I moved to Tarboro and took a position at North East Carolina Preparatory School. I taught middle and high- school-level agriculture at NECP for 4.5 years. One of my biggest professional goals was to start an agriculture elementary program somewhere because I just feel it’s super important for kids to learn about ag before they get into their older years so that they can maybe dream of being a farmer one day,” she said.

Amber Davis teaching a bee lesson virtually
Davis teaching first graders a lesson on bees and beekeeping virtually

And she did just that, also at NECP. “I was really excited to accomplish that goal.”

Davis would take some of the high school students into the elementary classrooms and use the Ag in the Classroom program from Farm Bureau. When the pandemic hit, Davis had to adjust her strategy.

“I would read them a story about agriculture and then do a small lesson virtually. I personally went into some of those classrooms during my planning time and did some hands-on teaching for the students that were in person,” she recalled.

In the last three years of her teaching career, Davis served as a National FFA Teacher Ambassador. She learned about FFA curriculum resources for ag teachers. She then was able to take those resources and teach her colleagues how to implement them.

Her new full-time position with National FFA evolved from that ambassador program. Now, Davis gets to help create those resources.

“I started my remote position with National FFA in March. It’s been really great. In this position, I get to serve other ag teachers and help make their lives easier and less chaotic. I’m creating resources that ag teachers can just print and plug and go, and they don’t have to do any extra planning,” she said.

NC FFA State Convention

From June 27-29, 2023, an estimated 2,700 middle and high school student members will meet at the annual NC FFA State Convention at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Amber Davis will be present to help judge some contests. She is excited to find different ways to stay involved with NC FFA now that she is no longer an ag teacher.

Davis’s daughter, Oakley, is 7 years old and has begun her 4-H journey showing goats. Davis is happy her daughter is following in her footsteps and expects she will join the growing members of NC FFA when she’s old enough to participate.

North Carolina has the fourth-largest FFA program in the nation, with approximately 700,170 members. There are 850,823 national FFA members, aged 12-21, in 8,995 chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.