Hannah Everetts grew up in rural Ohio, active in 4-H, FFA, and making memories at the county fair. Between showing livestock and helping area farmers with field work, Everetts was elected state FFA president her senior year of high school.
Her next chapter began at The Ohio State University in pursuit of a college degree, but Everetts wasn’t ready to leave FFA behind. “I felt like my FFA journey wasn’t entirely done yet and decided to run for national office,” she explains.
In 2008, she was elected National FFA’s Eastern Region Vice President. Everetts spent the next year traveling the U.S. and abroad, fueled by a passion for agricultural education. When her term, and bachelor’s degree, was complete she returned to the classroom, this time as the teacher. For the next nine years, Everetts served as an FFA advisor.
Today, she works as an account manager for Traction Ag, a software company that offers cloud-based accounting tools designed specifically for farmers. Everetts recently sat down with Successful Farming to share how more than 15 years of FFA involvement prepared her for success.
SF: Did you always imagine your career would be in agriculture?
HE: I always did, especially when I got into high school. FFA is really where I found my fit. I was always in athletics and a lot of extracurricular activities, but it was a square peg, round hole type of thing. I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere until I got into FFA and thought, “I have some real strengths here, and I’m really developing as a person.”
That’s what I wanted to pursue, and then provide that opportunity for other students. As both a teacher and national officer, I just wanted to advocate for that sense of belonging and family that I think FFA can bring.
SF: When you joined FFA was there an activity or person who helped you realize it was a good fit for you?
HE: My parents like to tell this story because the first contest that I participated in was Parliamentary Procedure, learning how to run a business meeting. A huge component of that is debating. My parents have always said, “You’ve liked to argue since you were knee high.” That was a perfect fit. It gave me an avenue where arguing is the name of the game, but doing it strategically, with valid reasons and data, was really important.
SF: It sounds like FFA gave you a place to apply a natural interest and hone that skill.
HE: Absolutely, and working as a team in that aspect. I don’t know that students get the experience of working in a team setting without it being physical like athletics. I don’t think we push that teamwork in a mental setting as much, like quiz bowl or a mock trial team. Those types of things are not always as common in rural, small communities, so students just don’t have that avenue to explore those types of interests. That was definitely the case for us, so FFA was what provided those opportunities.
SF: What can farmers or local agriculture industry do to support those types of opportunities?
HE: Specifically for FFA, volunteering to be on advisory committees or joining their local FFA Alumni. You don’t have to be a former member to do that.
It’s also important to volunteer to be a guest speaker. I know people don’t always love to do that, but that was always super valuable to have people in the classroom to answer, “Hey, you started your own hog operation. How did you do that?”
Even just volunteering to come in and mentor students. When we did some career fair type things, we would bring in folks that had invented their own agricultural products. Something as simple as a fitting for a leaf blower that would blow out different types of fertilizer on small plots. That was really unique and we could bring them in and say, “Somebody from our small town did this. You can be successful too.”
SF: Rather than waiting to be asked for help, how can someone who is passionate about FFA be proactive in their support?
HE: Reaching out to the teacher or the advisors is really the best way. It gets hard because it often felt like I was asking the same people for the same thing all the time, and you hate to burden people with more to do.
If farmers reach out first and say, “I’m always willing to help with X, Y, and Z” that’s super valuable. I had somebody in my community who worked as a grain merchandiser. He reached out and said, “You’ve got this grain merchandising contest team, do you want me to help coach them?” Absolutely! It’s your area of expertise and the students will probably listen to you better anyway.
SF: If farmers are concerned about their rural community and the stability of their FFA program, is there anything they can do to be proactive?
HE: It’s hard. Volunteering to help can take some of that load off. Offering specific assistance is key.
Instead of saying, “Hey, I’m willing to help with whatever you need,” offer, “I will come in and cook breakfast for your community breakfast. Let me know the time and I’ll be there to run the grill.”
It also helps, just in general, to have community support as school budgets get tighter and things get more lean in that avenue. Having security for your program is huge. Knowing that if anything comes up on a ballot or school board meeting, the community has your back and is willing to show up, speak out, and testify to the value of your program is incredibly important.
SF: Your career has pivoted since your time in the classroom. Help me connect the dots to where you are today.
HE: I married into a family farm. So my husband and I farm with his family in northwest Ohio. We’ve got young children and so I needed something that had a little more flexibility in that way and less time commitment after hours.
I was looking around wanting to stay in the agriculture industry, but in a very rural area, but not with a lot of diversity in terms of agriculture. People here farm full time, or maybe work at the local co-op. There’s not a lot else to do in terms of agriculture careers.
I was talking about this within our family and my brother-in-law mentioned a software he was using based out of Auburn, Indiana, which is near here. That’s how I learned what Traction Ag is, and thought, “Wow, I could get back into sales.” I did sales for an agricultural education curriculum company throughout college. So, I came over and met the Traction Ag team, it sounded like a great opportunity, and it’s all history from there.
SF: You’ve had a wide range of career experiences. Do you have any specific advice for people trying to navigate finding a career for themselves?
HE: I think the big thing is just prioritize the type of work you want to do and the type of people you want to be surrounded with every day. That makes a big difference, and is why I’ve chosen to stay in the agricultural industry in general.
The other thing that I always stressed to students was it is not about what you know, it’s about who you know and what you can learn from them. If you have a good network built, if you treat people right, and really pay attention to what is going on, I think that gets you further in life than a degree or certificate in a certain area.