Oct. 14 2011 06:00 AM

    Membership in the national ag organization is the highest in history.

    Fear not, there is hope yet for America's youth.

    Not all teenagers have withdrawn into a black hole of no manners, nonstop texting, and social dysfunction. Just look at Future Farmers of America.

    Incomprehensibly and wonderfully, the venerable ag organization has become cool on high school campuses like never before. All across the country, students are joining FFA in numbers that, well, haven't ever been seen.

    In 2011, FFA says over 540,000 students were members of their local chapters. That's up 17,000 from a year ago and is the most in the 83-year-old organization's history. New chapters are springing up from coast to coast. California (81,694) and Texas (70,555) have the largest statewide FFA memberships. All 10 of the largest individual chapters are in California, with Pioneer High School in Woodland, near Sacramento, heading the list.

    FFA's renewed popularity is being driven in large part by nonag kids. They say the appeal isn't so much about raising animals or growing crops, either. Camaraderie, leadership, traditional values, and practical skills like public speaking and business savvy are often the main lure.

    Jobs are another big one.

    "With more than 300 careers in agriculture, it comes as no surprise that students from all walks of life are interested in pursuing agricultural education," says National FFA Organization CEO Dwight Armstrong. "FFA members are students interested in developing a diverse set of skills and experiences that will equip them for careers in such fields as aquaculture and food science to production agriculture, forestry, research, and more."

    It's a trend that not only figures to keep putting food on tables, but also to keep agriculture up-to-date and in touch with tomorrow's consumers.