California’s FFA held its annual state leadership conference in late April, and for the first time in 25 years, the event wasn’t held in Fresno.
Rather, the Anaheim Convention Center was host to the organization’s 90th conference. Organizers decided last year that they needed a bigger venue than Fresno’s Selland Arena, and more concentrated lodging for attendees.
The convention had roughly 1,000 attendees when it moved from San Luis Obispo to Fresno in the early 1990s, and in the last few years more than 6,000 of the state’s nearly 80,000 FFA members attended the gathering. The news of its impending departure came as a shock to Fresno leaders, who briefly rallied last spring to try to keep the convention in town. But the organization wanted their biggest showcase to be in a venue that was larger and more modern than the 52-year-old Selland and its 7,200 broken-down seats.
So how did it go in Anaheim?
“It went really well,” says Josiah Mayfield, FFA assistant state advisor. “We had about 7,300 (attendees), so we essentially had the same number as the year before in Fresno.”
Considering that fee increases and higher lodging and travel costs made it a more expensive trip for many youngsters, some in the San Joaquin Valley had wondered if as many students would show up when the event moved from the heart of farm country. But they did.
“I think in the first year, we were I guess hopeful that we would get the same number as in Fresno,” Mayfield says. “We weren’t exactly sure how the move to the southern part of the state and making travel longer (for many students) would impact our numbers. We were extremely pleased that our numbers for the first year remained the same as the years before.”
He thinks attendance will grow in the next two years as the event remains in Anaheim before switching to Sacramento in 2021 and 2022. From then on, the plan is to alternate between Sacramento and Southern California every two years.
The FFA offered plenty of enticements to bring kids to Anaheim, including a private event at Disney California Adventure. But the meet didn’t include the afternoon of educational workshops and judging contests that had been held at California State University-Fresno on the Sunday of the convention. That’s still in Fresno, operating as its own stand-alone event. In fact some students went there April 21 on their way to Anaheim.
It’s not like Anaheim isn’t a popular meeting place for farm groups. The California Association of Pest Control Advisors is meeting there in October, and the California Farm Bureau Federation goes there frequently.
But it’ll be interesting to compare the attendance numbers when the FFA convenes in Sacramento’s by-then-totally-refurbished downtown convention center, which won’t require a plane trip and/or an LA freeway adventure for most of the organization’s members and parents.