Future Farmers of America (FFA) has a rich history that dates back over 100 years—and Todd Rightmire has led the Mount Baker High School group for 29 of them. He is now also joined by Corrina Davis and Tamara Whitcomb, who help coach.

Mount Baker has one of the most active FFA chapters in the state, boosted by how active other Whatcom County schools are. The local competition is steep, bringing up the game of all participants and resulting in success at the state-level competitions.

FFA grew out of the desire to promote agricultural education and, throughout the years, has involved raising a lot of animals. Raising animals is still an important and often favorite piece of FFA, but it has grown into much more.

“I tried to dispel the myth that you have to raise a pig or raise an animal to be in FFA,” says Rightmire. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Mount Baker High School FFA agriculture mechanics team after wining the state competition in Moses Lake, Washington. Left to right: Todd Rightmire, Jorey Johnson, Nico Johnson, Eli Freeman, Michael Weber, and Collin Favro. Photo courtesy Todd Rightmire

Students can participate in a wide range of career development events including, but not limited to, agriculture mechanics, employment skills, extemporaneous speaking, floriculture, food science, forestry, natural resources, prepared public speaking, and veterinary science.

Mount Baker generally has around 100 FFA members, accounting for approximately 20% of the student body. “About 20 to 25% of our members raise animals, that means 75 to 80% don’t,” Rightmire says.

Students get involved for a variety of reasons. Being part of the program means gaining skills that will prepare them for whatever they choose to do after high school, as well as having fun along the way. FFA does a lot of travel, offers scholarships, and gives access to opportunities that are hard to come by outside of the program. “They see what we do in the community,” says Rightmire, “whether it’s the booster club auction, kids making money at the fair, or trap shooting.”

Nico Johnson (left) and Michael Weber doing a copper plumbing exercise at Lynden Christian High School in spring 2021. Photo courtesy Todd Rightmire

While there is a lot of fun, success at the career development events takes hard work and dedication. Rightmire equates being in FFA to adding another class to the student’s workload. They meet one day a week after school, and those seeing success from their participation study a couple of hours a week at home. The learning that’s done is no doubt beneficial, but the process itself is where Rightmire really sees the growth. “Kids find out that things aren’t given to you; you need to earn it,” he says.

Mount Baker’s most recent agriculture mechanics team put in the effort and saw their hard work pay off. The team recently returned from Indianapolis, where they placed fifth in the country at the national event. To qualify for nationals, they had to win the state event, which took place in Moses Lake last spring.

The top four scores on a team counted in the competition, and the Mount Baker team performed well. Jorey Johnson took first place, Eli Freeman was second, Michael Weber was third, Nico Johnson was ninth, and Colin Favro was eleventh overall. The top four competed at the national event and the fifth went as an alternate, should something happen to one of the other competitors.

Jorey Johnson works on an electrical practicum. Photo courtesy Todd Rightmire

Because of COVID, the national competition schedule was pushed to September of 2021, which meant some participants had already graduated. This was the case for Johnson, Webber, and Freeman, but they’d put in years of work and, with the previous year’s competition canceled, this was the one opportunity to show what they could do. Johnson and Webber, who both study mechanical engineering at the University of Idaho, came back to Mount Baker to practice with Freeman, who attends Whatcom Community College, and Johnson and Favro, who are still in high school.

The skill development tests involve complex math tests and things like laying out and building a grinder stand and assembling a dissembled Caterpillar skids steer piston pump. From the math to the practical pieces, these challenges are no joke and take hours of hard work to accomplish.

“These kids are math geniuses,” Rightmire says. “They run circles around me in math, and they can quickly conceptualize and understand things.”

The Mount Baker High School FFA agriculture mechanics team after wining the state competition in Moses Lake, Washington. Left to right: Todd Rightmire, Jorey Johnson, Nico Johnson, Eli Freeman, Michael Weber, and Collin Favro. Photo courtesy Todd Rightmire

It was clear during our conversation that Rightmire is proud of how the group prepared and performed and was happy they had the opportunity to go to Indianapolis. The trip for the students was paid for by FFA funds, which are raised in a variety of ways, including selling their metal art at this year’s Deming Log Show.

The FFA booster club also does fundraisers throughout the year, raising money to help the program. If you are interested in helping the Mount Baker FFA, students are always looking for people to sponsor their animals, and they will have their annual auction on March 12th, 2022.

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