It's not just for farmers anymore.

Hundreds of students with the national FFA organization are preparing for competitions ranging from the serious to the odd.

The Delaware State Fair, July 20 to 29, will feature FFA members from high school chapters throughout the state. FFA has been represented at the fair since 1933.

Once called Future Farmers of America, FFA is about more than farms. The members don’t necessarily have an agricultural background. Some want to be foresters, veterinarians, plant biologists, agronomists or geneticists.

At the fair, FFA members will compete each day in career development events such as horse judging, agronomy, dairy showmanship, nursery and landscaping, poultry evaluation, livestock evaluation, dairy evaluation and tractor driving, said Amanda Powell, executive secretary of the Delaware FFA Association.

Chapters will have produce and displays set up in the Centre Ice Rink, and members will show off their livestock. “We have well over 350 members competing in our contests, produce and displays and livestock exhibiting at the fair,” Powell said.

On Thursday, July 27, FFA members are invited to participate in games – including a watermelon eating contest, egg toss and a sponge relay. The week culminates with a July 28 awards breakfast, sponsored by East Coast Seeds, at 9 a.m. in the free entertainment tent.

Middletown High School has about 45 students taking part, whether in an exhibition in the FFA building, competing in career development events, exhibiting livestock or volunteering at the University of Delaware creamery, said Cheryl Vest, one of three FFA advisors at the high school.

They could also be in the farm bureau booth, the grange, the pork producers’ booth, the Delaware calf raffle and the FFA barnyard. In general, the fair gives students “the chance to be part of something larger than here at Middletown High School,” Vest said.

FFA volunteers will take turns in the barnyard with farm animals – sheep, goats, dairy calves and some ponies. Which animals are on display is up to the individual chapters.

There will also be dairy cattle and goat show contests.

“Students are evaluated on how well they present their animals,” Vest said.

Vest, an agriscience teacher, was named district Teacher of the Year. The state teacher of the year will be named in October.

“It’s a big honor,” Vest said. “I’m very humbled by it. We have so many phenomenal teachers in our district and it’s for the students. Many students and co-workers made me how I am.”

CR contingent

Caesar Rodney High School’s FFA chapter will also be well-represented.

“At Caesar Rodney, we are busy getting chapter displays and member entries together, as well as training career development event teams for this year’s Delaware State Fair,” said Stephen Cook, FFA advisor.

Students throughout the district regularly show animals at the fair, but this year several students, with the support of the school district and local farms, are showing animals for the first time, Cook said.

Lauren Ruskey, another FFA advisor at the high school, said members of the Caesar Rodney FFA Chapter will be extremely involved at the fair this year.

"We have numerous students showing horses, lambs, market hogs, breed hogs, market goats, beef, dairy cattle, dairy goats, rabbits and chickens,” Ruskey said.

The Caesar Rodney chapter has 40 students that have entered exhibits, a livestock evaluation team, a dairy evaluation team, a dairy handler and a horse evaluation team.

“In total, we have roughly 50 students that will be competing in some sort of competitive exhibit at the fair,” Ruskey said. “In addition to competitive exhibits, our students will be volunteering to help serve meals at the grange.”

From Milford too

In the past, Milford High’s FFA chapter has won awards and the high school will be sending students this year in hopes of bringing more ribbons home.

“But you never know [until] when the fair is over, how many you won. We participate every year in the fair. Our students enjoy it,” said Chris Stahl, the school’s FFA advisor.