A couple of weeks ago, the community of Aneta, N.D., graciously hosted a benefit for our son, Hunter, who sustained a serious spine injury. While my husband, Nathan, mingled with attendees in the basement of the small-town auditorium, he recognized a familiar, though unexpected, face in the crowd: Mr. Vannett.

In 1989, as an awkward eighth-grader (Nathan’s words, not mine) trying to find his niche, Mr. Vannett encouraged Nathan to take an agriculture education class and join FFA. Today, more than three decades later, his teaching and mentorship still mean the world to Nathan.

FFA is not just for farm kids. Nathan was a “town kid.” His parents are first-generation small business owners, though they both were raised on farms in their early childhood years.

FFA is not just for students who have an interest in farming. Nathan was a kid who liked math, science and music.

Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher
Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

Feb. 22-29 marks National FFA Week. Even though I never enrolled in an agriculture education class or participated in FFA, I will celebrate the 700,710 FFA members, ages 12 to 21, in seventh through 12th grades and into college, from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. About 11,000 middle school and high school agriculture education teachers instruct and advise FFA members in 8,612 chapters.

Mr. Vannett only taught Nathan for two years before moving to a different school, but his impact lives on. Mr. Vannett is still an agriculture education teacher and chapter adviser, even though he’s retired once.

How did Mr. Vannett’s counsel impact Nathan? Was it through crops, range or land judging, the FFA creed, farm business management, public speaking or the National FFA Band?

No.

Mr. Vannett taught Nathan how to prepare to win. As Nathan shared with me, Mr. Vannett taught him to not just show up at a contest and hope to take home a bronze but to prepare for gold and to win. While he didn’t always win, the preparation mindset and goal of winning changed Nathan’s life.

Ag teachers and FFA programs leave a lasting impact on all types of kids. The education, programs, career and leadership development, citizenship and personal growth shape students who become our next generation in business, science and agriculture. What Nathan learned as an FFA member prepared him to be a focused business owner and volunteer civic leader.

As we journey through a difficult season of life, Mr. Vannett’s willingness to drive several hours to show up for Nathan yet again was magical. Even today, in his mid-40s and three decades removed from being that awkward teenager, Nathan is grateful for his beloved FFA adviser’s teaching and mentorship.

The success of an FFA chapter and an agriculture education program in a school district is dependent on a strong teacher, such as Mr. Vannett, engaged members, such as Nathan, and a supportive administration, school board and community members. Share your stories in your community, online or send me an email about how FFA has made a positive impact in your life, as a member, alumna or supporter. Happy National FFA Week.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.