With the 2004 presidential race now in full swing, here's a little trivia regarding the highest office in the land: Who is the only president ever to serve as a member and chapter officer of the Future Farmers of America (FFA)?

The correct answer is Georgia's own Jimmy Carter. The peanut farmer from Plains spent his President's Day holiday weekend this past month honoring the organization that he credits with setting him on the road to worldwide leadership.

Regardless of what you might think of his politics and his one term as president, Jimmy Carter inarguably has been the most productive and contributing former U.S. president in history. Not one to wile away his hours on the golf course or to be content with writing his post-presidency autobiography, Carter has been active in humanitarian and democratic causes both in the United States and throughout the world.

President Carter served as grand marshal of the Georgia FFA's charter celebration on Feb. 13, in his hometown of Plains. The Georgia FFA celebrated 75 years of student leadership by filling a time capsule with images, documents and memorabilia from each of the more than 200 statewide FFA chapters.

Though its meaning sometimes gets lost in commercialism — such as the various President's Day sales promoted by furniture and department stores — President's Day is a national holiday originally intended to honor presidents for their service to the United States. Carter spent this year's holiday unveiling a time capsule he constructed in his Plains woodworking shop.

The Plains celebration featured a parade of hundreds of Georgia FFA members clad in their familiar blue corduroy jackets, complete with marching bands. Carter watched as each chapter president placed their chapter's history in the hand-crafted box. He then congratulated the Georgia delegation on 75 years of success and commented on how the FFA was a determining factor in building his character, and in leading to his place in history as a world leader.

The Plains celebration also was an occasion to reflect on the role of the FFA in today's society. With the number of farmers dwindling with each passing year, some might argue that the organization no longer is relevant or has outlived its purpose, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It's interesting to note that the National FFA Organization's membership currently is at a 19-year high. Today, nearly a half-million young people nationwide, as well as in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are living the legacy of the national organization. By becoming members of FFA, 464,267 students are serving their communities and exploring more than 300 careers in agriculture thanks to the opportunities provided by FFA.

“The increase of our membership is a reflection of the dedication and deep commitment of teachers in agricultural education,” says National FFA Advisor Larry Case. “These teachers reach out to all students and develop a mentoring relationship resulting in student success. Together with state leadership, they are bringing the legacy of FFA to new students.”

The FFA he says, continues to influence new generations. “Our increasing membership can be traced to the growing opportunities of agricultural education and skills learned in the FFA. Today's membership reflects more than 300 different career interests, members in rural, urban and suburban settings, and the cultural diversity found throughout this great nation.”

The FFA motto gives members 12 short words to live by as they experience the opportunities in the organization — “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve” — words we would all do well to live by.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com