With the National FFA Organization celebrating ‘National FFA Week’, many FFA Chapters around the country are being put in the spotlight. For a small Montana FFA chapter in Gardiner, it was a heart felt story that was shared during ‘Give FFA Day’. Below, is the story from a community effort, already hit with their own problems:
In 2013, Lori Hoppe started the ag program in Gardiner, Mont., a small 800-person community bordering Yellowstone National Park. To mark its 10th year, the FFA chapter — housed in a K-12 school with roughly 60 junior and senior high students — boasted a near 50% student body participation rate and was the first agricultural sales CDE team to not only win the district contest but also to qualify to compete at national convention. After four years of competing and “stick-to-it-ness,” as Hoppe describes the trajectory for the small chapter was only going up.
Until a literal roadblock threatened their trip to the national stage.
On June 13, 2022, the Yellowstone River flooded, cutting off the one road in and out of Gardiner — and thus, all visitors passing through to enter the park. No tourism meant no local rodeo, which meant no concessions stand to help raise funds for the trip to the National FFA Convention & Expo.
“I spent several days just trying to brainstorm [what we were going to do],” Hoppe says. “I felt strongly we couldn’t ask our [impacted] community to contribute. It would be tough and a little insulting.”
The answer wasn’t far off, though. “It dawned on me that we had a utility trailer we’d built in class,” she says. “We could try to sell it at the county fair.”
“I thought it was a really good idea,” says Summit Browning, the Gardiner FFA president, who helped build the trailer. “The people at the fair had been really generous to us before with livestock. I just never expected [the trailer] to bring in as much as it did.”
The trailer sold not just once, but three times, racking up $17,000, which eclipsed Hoppe’s $3,000 goal to cover materials and transportation to the convention.
Browning caught all the excitement from inside the auction ring: “When the first person bought it, I was ecstatic. Then they said to sell it again, and by the end, we couldn’t really understand what had just happened.”
“The video still gives me chills to watch,” says Hoppe. “Because our chapter is so small, we typically go to convention every other year. We didn’t have that extra buffer year to build our funds. This was an absolute boost for us.”
To top it off, the sales team finished seventh in the nation and Browning placed third individually. “It was this kind of Cinderella story,” Hoppe says. “The whole thing was just wild and awesome.”
That’s how Browning describes it too, adding that Gardiner’s ranking reveals how any chapter, regardless its size, can thrive with the right support and perseverance. “I wanted to show that even small schools can compete,” he says. “And now Gardiner FFA is growing due to that success.”
Northern Ag Network / National FFA Organization – 2023