Three members of Hot Springs Future Farmers of America attended the April meeting of the Western Montana Stockmen’s Association to thank them for a generous $1,000 donation to their club.
“We’ve been wanting to have FFA for a long time,” says president of the new FFA chapter, Hot Springs High School junior Laci Lien. What they had been needing was an ag teacher.
This school year, that special teacher arrived. With a background in agriculture, FFA, and 4-H, and an ag-ed degree from Montana State University, Justin Wright has inspired many students to try their hand at all things practical, from wood shop and mechanics to agronomy, business, and public speaking.
Lien and 10 others recently returned from the state FFA competition in Bozeman. They gamely jumped into competitions in several categories with the goal of learning what they were about, so they could study up and compete strongly next year.
Lacy attended several leadership workshops as president of the club. Most of the attendees were long time FFA members, being encouraged to take that experience and step up to help their clubs and advisors. Because this is the first year Hot Springs has had FFA in recent memory, Lien enjoyed the chance to learn what leadership was supposed to look like. She also competed in livestock judging, finding out that for next year she will need to supplement her existing knowledge of horses and cattle. “I need to learn about sheep,” she determined. “And I will.”
Wright has “grand ambitions for everything that we could and possibly want to do,” with this new club. “We will make a push to take some kids to national in Indianapolis next year.” Whether or not they would compete at that level, he says, they would be going mostly for the education and experience. He remembers his own experience, touring factories, museums, attending a large trade show and Indianapolis Speedway, while meeting people from all fifty states and many U.S. territories.
IN FACT, it’s this generational memory that attracts many of these students.
“Most of our parents did FFA when they were younger too, so it’s cool to know we’re doing what they used to do, and our grandparents did, too,” says freshman member Jack McAllister, who attended the Stockmen’s meeting with his rancher dad. Jack competed at the state convention on the multi-skill Mechanics Team. “Welding, woodworking, surveying, electrical wiring — there were stations all around,” he says. “I had fun.”
Isabelle Morton competed in Farm Business Management, and Agronomy, which included plant diseases, soils, and identifying seeds and insects.
FFA is different from 4-H, says Lien, in that “I get to do it during school, it’s in my curriculum now, in a class I work on every day.”
“One of the things that separates FFA,” confirms Wright, is that “FFA is intracurricular, whereas sports and 4-H are extracurricular.” FFA and Ag Ed are joined together. “You’re gaining this knowledge in the classroom, and then you can apply that in competition, and it can be practically applied in their 4-H projects.” Many of the students have their own cattle herds, he says.
“It’s a lot of fun knowing that at the end of my senior year, I’m going to have two years of FFA under my belt and be able to say that I helped start a new chapter and helped set a lot of kids on this path that will benefit them in the future,” says Laci. “It’s our first year, so there was a lot of learning how to do it. Next year, I’m pretty sure we’re all going to be more competitive because we know what we’re getting into.”
The Stockmen’s Association expressed a high level of support for the program and said they would like to provide more funding and support into the future.