FFA members share their ag lives with others

Amy Menerey, NLJ Reporter
Photo courtesy of Jill Pischke
FFA Saddle and Sirloin Chapter President JJ Lipp reads to elementary students at Newcastle Elementary
School during FFA Week. Lipp and other FFA members who read to the youngsters enjoyed the activity so
much they would like to make it a regular event.

When the 27 members of the Saddle and Sirloin chapter of FFA started planning events for FFA Week, the Newcastle students knew they wanted to do something different — they wanted to engage the community, show appreciation in a lasting way for Newcastle High School staff, and recognize the agricultural community.

“We were just trying to find something to get the community involved a little more, because usually it’s just in the high school where we do most of our activities,” said Pate Tavegie, a member of Saddle and Sirloin. “But we were trying to think of a way to get some more of the schools involved, and a way to get FFA out there, to maybe try to spark their interest a little bit.”


One of the ideas their FFA Week committee came up with was to initiate a reading event at Newcastle Elementary School. Tavegie contacted NES Principal Brandy Holmes, who thought it was a good idea, then he reached out to teachers at the school, who wholly supported the idea of FFA members reading to their students, he said.


FFA member volunteers picked out ag-related books to read to the students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade, and made a day of it. The event went over well, according to Tavegie and chapter adviser Jill Pischke.


“That was a lot of fun. They really enjoyed that, and I also got a lot of feedback from the elementary teachers to please come back and do that more often, because the kids really enjoyed that,” Pischke said.


The program was so well received that the FFA members are talking about a repeat performance. When asked if they would do it again, Tavegie answered in the affirmative.


“I think it definitely is. The kids seemed to really enjoy it, and especially the shorter books,” he said. “We kind of picked cartoony-type, ag-related books, and they seemed to enjoy it. We hadn’t done it before, so it was different for us to do that, but, yeah, it was pretty fun.”


National FFA Week is a time for FFA members to raise awareness about the national organization’s role in developing future leaders and the importance of agricultural education, according to the website FFA.org. The weeklong tradition, which began in 1948, was created to recognize President George Washington’s legacy as an agriculturist and farmer, and the week encompasses Feb. 22, his birthday. This year, FFA Week was Feb. 18-25.


This wasn’t the only event that took place locally during FFA Week, however. The 27 NHS student-members came up with more ideas to share agriculture with their fellow students and community members.


Each year the Saddle and Sirloin chapter chooses to recognize teachers and staff at the high school. Often, according to Pischke, this came in the form of a breakfast or lunch. This year, the group chose to offer something a little more lasting. 


“Again, they really had a super fun idea. They called it doughnuts and doorstops,” Pischke described. “They used chapter funds and went and got doughnuts and delivered them to all the teachers, and with their doughnut, they got a doorstop that was made by Cort Perino, an FFA member who used his woodworking skills to cut doorstops. And then Zannie Rich donated her services to the chapter, and she engraved the FFA emblem on the doorstops so they could have that for their classroom doors.”


The doorstops and doughnuts were distributed throughout the designated day, and each teacher and staff member at NHS received their own custom doorstop.


“I just thought that was a really neat, different take on Teacher Appreciation Day. A lot of chapters will cook them breakfast or provide a meal, but they wanted to do something different — and they said every time they look at the doorstop they will think of the FFA chapter, and at the same time give them a breakfast treat,” Pischke described, adding that, as adviser she lets the students decide the group’s events throughout the year and during FFA Week.


“It’s a youth organization, and as their advisor I oversee it all, but I really try to put the ownership and the work with the kids. And yes, I’m there offering advice and guidance … but it’s really all them. I’m all about those kids learning from those experiences,” she said.


Another event during FFA week was thwarted somewhat by the snowstorm that blew through the county and closed the schools on Wednesday, Feb. 25. The group decided to start another new tradition, by recognizing local ag producers.


“I had read something and was talking with them about the resilience of the rancher, and as we got to talking about it, the kids, they decided we should really thank our local ranchers, and they said, ‘this is something we should do during FFA Week,’” Pischke said of the origin of the idea.


A list of local ranch families was created to be voted upon, and the three highest vote-getters were recognized for the first Thank a Rancher awards: The Sweet family, the Perino family, and the Tavegie family. Each family received a gift basket of goods the FFA members called a “calving survival kit.” The ranchers are going into calving season, Pischke explained, so the baskets were filled with coffee cups, snacks, gloves, and ranch supplies. The baskets were paid for out of chapter funds that FFA raises throughout the year. There were no specific criteria for the award, Pischke said, because the students wanted to recognize local ranchers regardless of the size of the operation.


“The importance of any operation, be it large or small, is still a necessity as an ag producer. They are producing food, and everybody from the small producer to the large ones, everyone is just as important, so they didn’t want to limit or set a certain criteria,” she explained. “This is such a big, rich ranching community. They didn’t want anyone to feel left out or excluded, because they want to build on this each year.”


The plan was to go out to the ranches and deliver the awards, but due to the snow storm a more informal approach was taken with them being distributed in the following days.


Other FFA Week events at NHS included the popular Kiss a Goat “contest,” with the entire student body voting to choose staff members to do the deed. This year’s “winners” were NHS Principal Bryce Hoffman, and physical education teacher and coach Matt Conzelman. The event took place in the school gymnasium on Thursday, Feb. 26, providing fun and entertainment for all. Additionally, members recorded an informational piece that aired on KASL Radio throughout the week, and put out informative posts on the chapter’s Facebook page.




FFA was founded in 1928 by a group of young farmers to promote agriculture, but goes beyond planting crops or raising livestock — it involves science, business and more, according to the FFA website. Pate said the things he learns will help him in the future. 


“In FFA, there’s little competitions, for example agronomy, which is like plant studies and stuff, and livestock judging, and just practicing stuff like that has just helped me to better myself, so that when I’m older I can make more educated decisions later in life. Hopefully I’m in charge of the ranch one of these days, my brother and myself,” said Pate, who lives on the family ranch west of Newcastle on U.S. Highway 450 with his parents, Troy and Kelli Tavegie, and siblings Tell, Coen, and Emeree. He said he plans to follow in the ranching footsteps of his parents and his grandparents, Bob and Kathleen Tavegie, and Lauris and Linda Tysdal. The 17-year-old has been a member of FFA for three years, starting in his freshman year at NHS, and enjoys the camaraderie as well as the skills he learns through membership.


“I come from a ranch family. [I enjoy] the agricultural ties to it, and the agricultural opportunity that you have through it. The other kids that are in it have the same type of mind-set that I have,” Pate said.


Other events throughout the year include the Saddle and Sirloin Annual Awards Banquet, eighth grade recruitment, Ag Day with fourth-graders, Farm Animal Day with kindergartners, fairgrounds beautification projects, planting at Mondell Heights Retirement Home, and of course events at the county and state fairs.


For Pischke, who was also an FFA member in her youth and grew up on the Perino ranch near Newcastle, being an advisor means imparting traits that will help the students beyond high school and FFA. She said her focus within Saddle and Sirloin is on three strengths: agriculture, growing leaders, and serving in the community. 


“I’m always really proud of my FFA members. I have some pretty high expectations, and they are nothing but always spot on when it comes to demonstrating good leadership skills, and modeling good character in just about everything they do. But they also hold themselves to those expectations, too — they hold each other to a higher standard. They really want to be a group that has a positive influence, not only in the community, but also with their peers. That is important to them. They all just go for it, and I am always very proud of them. I always love it when I get such great compliments on them.”



In Wyoming, there are a total of 3,799 FFA members, according to Saddle and Sirloin Chapter advisor, Jill Pischke. There are more than 850,000 student members as part of 8,995 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the FFA website, FFA.org. The National FFA Organization is described as a “school-based national youth leadership development organization,” whose mission it is to “make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.” The National FFA Foundation secures funding through partnerships with industry, education, government, other foundations and individuals to recognize member achievements, develop student leaders and support ag education. Individual chapters earn funds through community events, according to Pischke.

More information can be found on the FFA’s website, Facebook or Twitter accounts. For local information, Pischke can be reached at 746-2713.

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