In August of last year, the officer team of the Beaverhead FFA Chapter in Dillon, Mont., got together for their traditional officer retreat. Although the format for the event was different due to COVID-19 restrictions, the goal of the retreat was still the same: plan and map out chapter activities for the coming year.
The upcoming year wasn’t looking all that exciting. The 93rd National FFA Convention had announced it would be held virtually; the John Deere Ag Expo, a large multi-day state contest held in Bozeman every November was likely going to look different; and several other in-person FFA conferences and contests were clouded with uncertainty, as well. The chapter officers and their advisor, Caleb Igo, were wondering what they could do to help keep chapter members active and engaged.
Back in early 2019, the Beaverhead County high school ag education program was in the process of moving their classroom into a newly constructed building. During the moving process a bunch of old chapter scrapbooks were uncovered, some dating back to the 1930s. Both Igo and his students really enjoyed thumbing through them and the thought occurred, maybe it would be neat to learn even more about the history of Beaverhead FFA.
“We kind of thought it would be cool to reach out to some of those people that were still around and get some of their stories before that narrative is lost,” Igo recalled.
In addition to recording stories, Igo and chapter members thought it would be fun to try and track down old chapter jackets with the goal of displaying one from each decade around the new ag education classroom.
So bloomed a chapter history project that has done much more than just keep chapter members engaged.
To get the project rolling, Igo enlisted the help of the chapter’s alumni, and soon after jackets, memorabilia and stories came rolling in to the new ag classroom. So far, an old sweetheart jacket from the 1970s and jackets representing six other decades proudly line the walls of the room.
Most of the donated jacket have come with a story – one that explains what FFA meant to its original wearer and how the organization has impacted them. As the current chapter members have been working on collecting jackets, tracing history and listening to stories, they are continually reminded of just how far-reaching the positive effects of FFA involvement can be.
“It is interesting for the kids to see the heritage of all this and to see just how much some of this stuff matters,” he said.
In addition to the scrapbooks, Igo found a treasure trove of 35 film slides, many of which documented ag education and FFA field trips from decades prior. The students, Igo says, have found a lot of joy looking at the photos and making personal connections to previous generations.
For Igo, the films are a glimpse into how ag education was approached before. He has noted that field trips were a common occurrence. Ag education has always had a curriculum based in hands-on learning and newspaper clippings and photos of days gone by tell of stories of students stepping outside of the classroom to learn about shearing, haying, irrigating or any other form of agriculture common in Beaverhead County.
What started out as a project to keep chapter members engaged has developed into a collaboration with the Beaverhead FFA Alumni, and reaching further, the community of Dillon, Mont. Igo has employed the help of social media to identify and give context to photos and says he has been blown away by the community’s participation in their history adventure.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching the whole community scavenger hunt. I’m always excited to see what turns up,” Igo said enthusiastically.
FFA began in Montana in 1930 and Beaverhead FFA was one of the first chapters chartered, but Igo has learned that ag education classes in the high school pre-date the chapter. When the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 allotted money for schools to start vocational agriculture and home economics classes, Beaverhead County High School begin offering such classes shortly after the legislation passed.
With such vested ties to agriculture and Montana FFA, the Beaverhead FFA Chapter has some deep rooted history as it enters its ninth continual decade in existence. Igo and his students have enjoyed uncovering the heritage and connecting the chapter back to its community.
The hunt is still on for a few more chapter jackets, although Igo admits finding jackets from the 1930s and 1940s may be difficult. Even when all the decade jackets are found, Igo doesn’t see the project concluding. Both he and the students are enjoying it too much.
Agriculture is an ever progressing field and the students involved in FFA are often thought of as the future for the industry. It is not often, however, the future takes a moment to look into the past like the members of the Beaverhead FFA Chapter are doing.
The Beaverhead FFA Chapter is grateful to their alumni and the members of the Dillon community that have helped them with this project and they all look forward to seeing what is unearthed next.