Wisconsin farm boy turned journalist earns rare FFA VIP award

Jan Shepel
Jim Massey, this year's FFA VIP award winner, recently retired from his decades-long career as editor of a statewide farm newspaper, The Country Today, allowing him to devote more time to the grass-fed beef cattle he raises on his farm. Massey is the third generation to tend the land on his family's farm near Barneveld.

BARNEVELD - When the Wisconsin Association of FFA handed out its awards earlier this summer they gave a rare VIP award to Jim Massey, a Wisconsin farm boy turned journalist who reported on agriculture nearly all of his career and who has given of his time and talents to civic and agriculture groups for decades.

“It was sure humbling to receive that kind of award. I’m sure there were a lot of people who were more deserving of it but it is nice to receive that kind of recognition,” he told Wisconsin State Farmer.

Massey grew up on his family’s dairy and hog farm near Barneveld, and is the third generation to live there. His grandparents farmed the homestead from 1911 to 1935 and his parents took over the farm in 1935. Jim was the youngest of six children and when he decided not to farm, his dad sold their cows. But Jim didn’t venture far from agriculture.

He attended UW-Platteville for two years. “Coming from a tiny class of 38 kids at Barneveld High School I didn’t think I was ready to go to Madison,” he says. But after getting some of the journalistic basics under his belt at Platteville, he earned his degree at the UW-Madison.

By 1983 he was hired by The Country Today, a farm newspaper headquartered in Eau Claire that was making a push toward statewide readership. He served as regional editor, covering his home territory from his base in Dodgeville. By 1994 he moved to Eau Claire to serve as co-editor of the paper and a year later became general manager and sole editor.

During that time Massey and his staff were involved in several farm shows in northwest Wisconsin – sponsoring live and silent auctions to benefit the FFA organization. That strong support was noted by FFA officials who invited Massey to be part of the FFA Foundation Board. That foundation is a non-profit organization which supports the Wisconsin Association of FFA and other agriculture education partners in the state.

Longtime farm editor Jim Massey received the VIP award from the Wisconsin Organization of FFA at the group's convention earlier this summer for his support of youth and agriculture programs and his service to the FFA Foundation. Pictured with him is last year's FFA State President Ciera Ballmer.

He served the foundation board as president and was a member for eight years. He also served the Wisconsin Agri-Business Council as a board member for many years, as a representative of the state’s farm media.

Back to the family farm

It had always been part of the plan for the Masseys to move onto his family’s farm and in 2003 Jim and his wife Anne moved back to the home place. They undertook a restoration and remodeling of the old farm house -- the only structure on the farm that had survived the Barneveld tornado in 1984.

Jim recalls that terrible night vividly. “I remember my Mom called me in a panic at 1 in the morning saying the garage was gone and she could see the car as the lightning blasted away. In another bolt of lightning she could see the barn was gone,” he recalled.

The storm had been a direct hit on his hometown of Barneveld. Nine people died in the storm and several, including one of Massey’s aunts, died some time later as a result of injuries they sustained in the tornado.

It was just the track of the storm that allowed the Massey farmhouse to remain. “I don’t care how well built a house was, if that storm hit it, it was going to be gone. The tornado just tracked a little bit south and the house was spared.”

Still, the family farmhouse needed a bit of tender loving care when the third generation of Masseys moved in. Jim and Anne had their refrigerator in the garage while they rebuilt several porches and a section of the house that now houses a kitchen with views of the Blue Mounds. They have been lovingly restoring the rest of the house year by year, bringing country charm and updated electrical to the rest of the building.

They retained 43 acres of the original farmland, selling the rest to a neighboring farmer. They maintain pastures and fences and use the land to raise grass-fed beef cattle sources from southwest Wisconsin, which they direct-market to dozens of customers.

The Masseys raised two sons and a daughter and now have two grandchildren – a boy and a girl. Jim can see them all he wants to now that he’s retired as editor of the newspaper.

He still serves his community as president of the Dodgeville Kiwanis Club and a member of the hospital board for Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville. He also shares his musical talent with band and vocal music groups in the area.

Massey said he always enjoyed supporting FFA because he sees it as the “future of our industry. As an editor of a farm newspaper I wanted to stay in touch with future farmers and future readers.”

Reporting on FFA and its state officers was a way to keep in touch with those who would soon become leaders in the world of agriculture. Massey served as a judge for many FFA contests each year, including speaking contests, where he got to know even more of the industry’s future leaders.

 “One of the most enjoyable things every year was to be a part of that State FFA Convention,” he said.

 The honor of the VIP Award given to him at this year’s convention in Madison in June told him that “people respected us and what we did for their organization.”