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S-O FFA works to beautify the barns of northwest Iowa

Kaitlin Michelson holds one of the 2- by 2-foot barn quilts featuring the FFA emblem. The chapter has completed a dozen barn quilts and has orders for more. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- In recent years, the Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA Chapter has played an integral role in building tourism for northwest Iowa. The chapter was honored by the Iowa FFA Association for its work in developing a brochure that touted the sites of Osceola County and still leads visitors on a treasure trove of "off the beaten path" places to see.

Now, the chapter is working once again to boost tourism in the county by making barn quilts. Available in three different sizes, the quilts are sold to area residents to display on their barns and outbuildings. Eventually, the goal is to have enough quilts dotting barns across the countryside to begin offering a barn quilt tour.

S-O FFA senior Kaitlin Michelson has taken the lead on the barn quilt project. The idea came about as she was traveling with fellow FFA members and advisor Mike Earll to the Iowa FFA Convention in the spring of 2009.

"On the way, we had seen the barn quilts," Michelson said. "It was a really cool idea. We thought maybe we could try this. We don't see many in Osceola County."

The 11-member FFA leadership team at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School gathered together to discuss the project with Diane Raveling of Melvin, who had experience in making barn quilts. After talking it over, the team came up with 10 different patterns that they would make.

The first barn quilts were constructed during May term in 2009.

"May term is our last month (of school)," said Michelson. "We can explore different areas and we have (recreational and educational) programs."

The ag shop at S-O High School was transformed into a barn quilt painting area for the month, with FFA members volunteering to paint the 2- by 2-foot, 4x4 and 8x8 plywood sheets. Their first quilts were hung at Hawkeye Point and at the Osceola County Fairgrounds, and word began to spread about the chapter's endeavor.

"People were getting curious," said Michelson.

They brought their patterns to the county fair in July and had them on display in the FFA Foodstand.

"We told people we were selling them and began taking orders," said Michelson, adding that special orders were also being accepted.

So far, they've filled a dozen orders and have another seven or eight on order.

During the summer, the supplies were moved to Michelson's home near Ocheyedan, where she and her mother would often work on the patterns.

"My mom is quite artistic, so we took it on," she said. "My mom helps me and my dad will help when he's home."

Michelson is looking forward to moving the project back to the high school, where more FFA members will be able to help complete the orders in time for them to be hung in the spring.

While the chapter has several different patterns to choose from, no quilt is exactly the same as another. They have a rainbow of colors to choose from, although Michelson said the most popular pattern features triangles and the darker shades. The FFA emblem has also been a popular choice among purchasers.

Each barn quilt takes several days to complete. The plywood base gets three coats of primer and then another three coats of paint before it's finished.

Michelson said those who buy a barn quilt are responsible for hanging it.

So far, the project has been a decent fundraiser for the chapter.

"As soon as we get more people involved, it will be a bigger fundraiser -- just not as big as our fruit sales," she said.

Michelson said money raised from the project will help the FFA purchase new items for its agriculture department, as well as help fund the junior-senior trip the chapter takes every other summer.

After Michelson graduates this spring, she thinks her younger sister, Shannon, will take over where she left off. Shannon will be a freshman in the fall and is already hoping to follow in her sister's footsteps with the barn quilt project.

Michelson is rather proud of the quilts that have been completed thus far, and enjoys seeing them hanging around the county.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "It's helping our FFA chapter show the community that we want to bring people in to show them (the barn quilts), and to get more people to come to our community.

"It's just a good way for the FFA to get a good name," she added.

For more information on purchasing a barn quilt, contact S-O FFA Advisor Mike Earll at (712) 754-3601.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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