Before starting high school at Athens Christian School (ACS), Abbey Gretsch had no idea what FFA was – and ACS didn’t even have an FFA chapter when she began her freshman year. But thanks to a good friend and trusted adviser, Gretsch became interested in the organization and helped create the ACS FFA chapter in 2010, which is the first private vocational agriculture program in the state.
Since the ACS FFA chapter began, Gretsch has been a highly active participant in the organization. Most recently, she was elected to serve as the 2015-2016 southern region vice president for the National FFA, an office she is proud to represent.
“It was exciting to help start a program at ACS that I’ve found such a passion in,” Gretsch says. “I dove headfirst into our FFA chapter, and I’ve never looked back.”
Gretsch grew up on a poultry and cattle farm, and she started showing cattle through 4-H when she was in middle school. Once she entered high school and her FFA chapter was established, Gretsch took classes in basic agriculture, animal science, agricultural leadership and agricultural communications. She eventually served as her chapter’s president, vice president, treasurer and student adviser, as well as the 2013- 2014 Georgia FFA vice president.
“Abbey was on board for the new ag program from day one at ACS. She was instrumental in getting the program off the ground,” says Sara Hughes, Gretsch’s former FFA advisor at ACS. “Through her continued involvement as an officer, encourager and leader in new events, she set a great example for her fellow students. FFA created a spark in Abbey that has grown into a large flame. She was hooked from the first day.”
After graduation, Gretsch headed to the University of Georgia to double major in agricultural communications and agricultural education. It was during her sophomore year at UGA that she was named a National FFA officer at the 88th National FFA Convention & Expo.
“I wasn’t sure whether to be overwhelmed or overjoyed,” Gretsch says. “It was a long process to get here, including nine different rounds of interviews, but it was worth it.”
Because of their many responsibilities, National FFA officers must take a year off from school to serve in their respective positions, so Gretsch spent her time traveling from city to city – sometimes even going outside the U.S. – and focused on advocating for agriculture and agricultural education. She also participated in various training programs and workshops, sharpening her leadership skills and learning more about the agriculture industry.
“We visit with FFA sponsors and potential sponsors, and we go to state FFA conventions across the country,” Gretsch says. “We also went to this year’s National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis. It’s been fun to connect with different companies, and I’ve gotten to meet some incredible people who have amazing stories. I’m thankful for this experience, and it’s wonderful and encouraging to see how this organization impacts people across the country.”
Serving Students Well
In addition to Gretsch, the creation of the ACS FFA chapter has benefited – and continues
to benefit – many ACS students, often introducing them to career possibilities they had never considered before joining FFA.
“I know several ACS graduates who are continuing their education in agriculture, much like Abbey Gretsch,” says Laura Beth Willman, ACS FFA adviser and teacher. “Many of these students would have never guessed agriculture would be a good fit for them without our FFA chapter.”
The ACS FFA chapter now has approximately 40 members, and over the past six years, the program has offered classes in areas such as agricultural business, electrical wiring and forestry. Outside the classroom, ACS FFA students take part in supervised agriculture experience projects, with some raising and showing award- winning livestock, and another conducting equine research that has caught the attention of professors in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Our students are learning how agriculture impacts their lives on a daily basis,” Willman says. “They’re learning that agriculture is not just about cows, plows and sows, and it’s opening them up to so many possibilities they didn’t realize existed.”