Stories from the Great Depression in Johnson County, Part 5

Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry is a national traveling exhibition and program about the causes and aftermath of the Dust Bowl.  The exhibit and programs will be held at the Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th Street, Overland Park, Kansas, 66212 from July 2-August 16.

The hardships of the 1930s reinforced the lessons of hard work, careful planning and thrift to farmers in Johnson County.  The Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization was founded in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri to educate the future generations of farmers who would be tasked with feeding growing populations in years to come.  During the 1930s, the Shawnee Mission chapter of the FFA was the largest in the state with 72 members and was frequently recognized for their accomplishments.

The 1934-1935 Shawnee Mission FFA chapter at Shawnee Mission Rural High School.

The 1934-1935 Shawnee Mission FFA chapter at Shawnee Mission Rural High School.

The Shawnee Mission FFA operated out of Shawnee Mission Rural High School, known today as Shawnee Mission North.  The group focused on a number of agricultural activities that included raising chickens and livestock and planting and maintaining crops of all kinds.

Karl Seested showing a calf at a competition, circa 1935.

Karl Seested showing a calf at a competition, circa 1935.

The importance of technology was stressed to these young farmers who represented the future of American agriculture.  During the 1930s, the Shawnee Mission FFA chapter began to experiment with electrically heated beds to raise tomato plants.  These electric beds were used instead of manure heat.  The beds proved successful.  Because money was tight and many pepole were in need, in 1935 the young men in the Shawnee Mission FFA donated some of their tomato crop to the Red Cross.  The group won the Best Chapter contest in 1934, and in 1935 the Shawnee Mission FFA was one of three chapters chosen to represent the state of Kansas in a national chapter contest.

Shawnee Mission FFA members, circa 1935.

Shawnee Mission FFA members, circa 1935.

In addition to their space at the high school, in 1935 the Shawnee Mission FFA rented 10 acres of land in Johnson County from a man named George Thomas.  Mr. Thomas worked out an arrangement favorable to himself and the FFA group.  The Thomas family took only what they needed, and the FFA members learned to raise potatoes, onions, green beans, and tomatoes.  The young boys also learned to plant and cultivate apple and cherry trees on Mr. Thomas’ land.

The training and education the members of the Shawnee Mission FFA received during the Great Depression years was a direct reflection of the times.  The young chapter members learned to work hard, work together, and to embrace new ideas and changing technology.  They also learned the value of careful planning and thrift.

As farmland gave way to development in Johnson County after World War II, the role of the FFA waned locally.  The Shawnee Mission chapter officially disbanded in 1961.

The Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry exhibition was organized by the American Library Association Public Programs Office, the Oklahoma State University Library and the Mount Holyoke College Library.  It was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.

Cosponsored by the Johnson County Library and the Johnson County Museum.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

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