PEORIA – Caleb Gillispie said he knew long before coming to Peoria High School that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a high school agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser.
That led him to this school’s agriculture education program, where as a junior Gillispie is tutoring younger students and helping manage those caring for a golf course located on campus.
“FFA is teaching skills for life, not just leadership,” he said. “You go out right away and apply what you learned in the classroom.”
Based on a request from state FFA leaders, Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would create a special license plate honoring agriculture education. Biggs said learning about agriculture gives students a foundation for success regardless of whether they go into the field.
“They get a chance to experience everything that goes along with farming: life, death and the economics of the industry,” he said.
Biggs, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he used to be an adamant “no” vote on special plates because of concerns that law enforcement officers have trouble making them out. However, he said he’s come to see that isn’t the case.
H2245 is one of several bills introduced so far that would add special plates supporting troops, the Arizona Masonic Fraternity, multiple sclerosis awareness and other groups and causes. Arizona already offers nearly 50 special license plates.
FFA would have to pay $32,000 to cover the Department of Motor Vehicles’ cost of establishing the plates. Of the $25 required to order or renew the plate, $17 would go to a fund administered by the State Board of Education, which under the bill would allocate it to organizations promoting agriculture education.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee endorsed the bill recently on a 5-3 vote, sending it to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee. Reps. Eric Meyer, Steve Farley and Nancy McLain voted against it, raising concerns about safety, the current number of special plates and the propriety of state government acting as a fundraiser.
Tyler Grandil, the state FFA executive secretary, said proceeds from sales of the special plates would help more students in poorer schools participate in agriculture education. He said it’s crucial that schools help interested students learn about agriculture so they’re ready for the industry.
“Today’s farmers are producing more by using less,” he said.
Grandil said between 15 and 20 other states offer special plates honoring FFA and agriculture education.
Brian Fuller, the FFA adviser at Peoria High School, said he hopes the plate will be popular in big cities as well as rural areas where agriculture plays a key role.
“Public awareness is more important now than it’s ever been,” he said. “The agriculture industry in the state is important to all of us and our economy.”
Another of Fuller’s students, Emily Wolfe, said she used to flip-flop on a career path, but after participating in FFA she wants to be a large animal veterinarian.
“It’s so easy to forget that this was traditionally a farming community,” Wolfe said. “We want to let people know that this does exist, and it gives us a chance to be leaders, not just learn about leadership.”