Education Lab

FFA’s huge state conference outgrows Fresno. After 23 years here, it’s moving to Anaheim

Students attending this year’s Future Farmers of America statewide leadership conference in Fresno get a chance to talk with experts on a variety of topics of interest to agriculture at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center in downtown Fresno. This is the last year the convention will be held in Fresno.
Students attending this year’s Future Farmers of America statewide leadership conference in Fresno get a chance to talk with experts on a variety of topics of interest to agriculture at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center in downtown Fresno. This is the last year the convention will be held in Fresno. rrodriguez@fresnobee.com

The annual statewide FFA leadership conference, one of Fresno’s largest conventions with more than 7,000 participants, wrapped up its four-day event Tuesday. But officials say that after 23 years in the city, it won’t be back next year.

“We have just grown too big,” said Josiah Mayfield, assistant state FFA adviser. “And we are in need of more space.”

Mayfield said that since the convention began its long-running relationship with Fresno in 1994, the number of participants has grown from 1,500 to more than 7,000. The conference draws students from the state’s 330 FFA chapters.

Mayfield said next year’s convention will shift south to Anaheim for two years and then up north to Sacramento for two years. Both locations allow the convention to expand its programs, including career development, educational workshops and seminars for agriculture teachers. The locations will also have more hotels closer in proximity to the conference events. FFA students, their teachers and chaperones were scattered in more than 30 hotels in Fresno and Clovis.

Fresno city officials said that while they wish the students well, the financial loss of the convention will be tough to make up. The economic impact of last year’s four-day convention was $994,750. The convention ate up nearly 6,500 room nights.

“They were one of the big ones and when you are that big, everyone wants to have you,” said Layla Forstedt, president and chief executive officer of the Fresno/Clovis Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We understand that is the nature of the industry, and we will do our best to find other groups out there.”

Fresno State President Joseph Castro, who referred to the relocation as “puzzling” on Twitter, offered the Save Mart Center at a reduced rate and use of the campus to FFA convention officials.

Late Tuesday, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand’s office said the mayor and Castro met with an FFA official to discuss the organization’s decision to leave Fresno. He vowed to work with Castro to seek ways to bring FFA back to town.

“Dr. Castro and I agreed to continue working on a proposal to keep the state FFA convention in the agricultural heart of California, including assessing local facilities, housing and other amenities. We plan to engage area agriculture leaders and other local agencies to provide a competitive package that expands our ability to successfully host this state convention and deliver the best possible experience for the California FFA and its local chapters.”

Charles Parker, San Joaquin Region Supervisor and FFA Adviser, said Castro has tried to look at options.

“Now whether the convention returns to Fresno or not, we just don’t know,” Parker said.

Some parents and teachers said Monday that they are concerned that rising travel costs could limit the number of students attending.

“The great thing about Fresno is that it was in the middle of the state,” said Shannon Spears, an agriculture teacher at River Delta Unified School District, south of Sacramento. “Now we will have to travel twice the distance that we used to and I’m concerned that it may reduce the number of kids that I can take.”

Spears brought 31 students to the convention this year.

Sally Christie, a River Delta Unified parent, said being in Fresno, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, was the appropriate place to be.

“Fresno is ag territory and Anaheim isn’t,” she said. “And we will be missing that.”

Valley FFA students agree that Anaheim can’t compare to Fresno County when it comes to agriculture, but it has Disneyland and represents the chance to see another part of the state.

“Some students from small towns don’t always have the chance to travel outside of Fresno,” said Elexis Cuen, of Firebaugh High School. “So for them, this could be very impactful.”

Parker agreed, saying: “There may be a drop off in students who attend, but this could also be a growth opportunity for many students.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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