Northwest Arkansas is growing and becoming more metropolitan each year. Part of this phenomenon is smaller towns surrounding the Fayetteville-Springdale, Ark., area becoming more urban, rather like suburbs, unlike the completely rural towns they once were.
What this means in terms of FFA is that a large portion of members no longer live on farms. One such student is Dixie Miller, 16, who technically lives in Fayetteville, attends Farmington, Ark., schools, is a member of Farmington FFA and does not live on a farm. She and her family live on 2 acres on the outskirts of Fayetteville, which is more land than many FFA members today have access to.
Urban sprawl has increased dramatically during Dixie’s lifetime. She easily remembers being 4 years old and being paid 50 cents for opening every gate for her Pepaw. She also remembers visiting her great-grandmother, Verna Miller, on her farm and jumping from the barn into the hay with her cousins. They also loved being pulled by a tractor in the snow on their farm in Prairie Grove, Ark.
“I tried sports and clubs, but it was not a good fit so I went the 4-H and FFA route,” Dixie said. “When I was in fifth grade I was told if I could make the honor roll I could get a goat. That goat was my first 4-H project. I went all the way to the state fair and remember crying when it was sold.”
Today most students in her FFA Chapter, keep their animals at the school barn under the guidance of advisors Clayton Sallee and Ronnie Horn.
Dixie raises her animals, except for her Gold Sex Link laying hens, at the farm of her uncle and aunt, Jerry and Diana Moyer of Lincoln, Ark.
As Dixie pursued her interest in agriculture, she set a goal of trying to show every market animal at the fair. With a pig she is showing this year, she will have shown every species except for turkeys, which were excluded from this year’s fair because of an avian flu issue further north. Dixie is showing a large, mostly Hereford heifer, as well.
Dixie never does anything halfway. She has attended numerous camps to perfect her skills and knowledge including a cattle camp in Warner, Okla., last summer. Kansas State University ran an exclusive Animal Science Leadership Academy and Dixie selected to attend this year and especially enjoyed a dairy session and touring facilities like Sysco Foods. She was a delegate of the Arkansas FFA Association for the recent National FFA Convention, which included a long culling process and intensive interview. When asked why she wanted to attend, she explained that the delegate business sessions were the ones that first allowed women to enter FFA in 1969 and she wanted to be part of that legacy.
Last year Dixie was secretary of her FFA Chapter and is president this year with the goal of running for state office after her senior year. A conflict exists because she also wants to be on a livestock judging team in college, but Arkansas has no junior colleges with livestock judging teams and to be a state officer she must go to school in Arkansas.
The driving force behind Dixie’s activities is a passion for being an agricultural advocate. When freshmen enrolled in school this summer, Dixie was there to explain what FFA was.
“I explained that FFA was no longer just about cows, sows and plows, but about all aspects including those not actively involved in raising animals such as ag communications,” Dixie said.
While very unsure of what her eventual career will be, Dixie is adamant about being in agriculture and part of the movement to educate the public.
“If not for my extended family, I might never have found my calling in agriculture. I have a lot of good people behind me and we pull together,” she said.