Fall Ag Tab: From farm to family

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Meet the Austin family bonded by their passion for agriculture


By Amanda Lillie

When it comes to the VanPelt family’s love of agriculture, it’s safe to say the passion is hereditary.

Email newsletter signup

“I grew up with dairy cattle, and (my husband) Bob grew up with beef and hogs,” explained Jodi VanPelt, of Austin. “We just both love teaching about agriculture, and that’s where both of our roots are.”

All four of Jodi and Bob VanPelt’s children have taken after their parents, with 19-year-old Ryan VanPelt already in college focusing on ag engineering and the triplets not far behind.

The triplets — Abby, Katie and Blake VanPelt — are beginning their senior year at Austin High School, and with that, their 10th year in 4-H and fourth year involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA).

“Both of our parents were in 4-H and FFA, but mom showed dairy and dad showed beef cattle,” Abby said. “We actually don’t have any cattle, but we show sheep and raise them as a family. We have a flock of 30 at home.”

Abby and Katie tend to enjoy the animal side of agriculture, especially with a whole flock of sheep at home to care for. Blake and their older brother Ryan are drawn to the mechanical and technological side of the coin, which Jodi said is likely from spending time down the road working at their grandpa’s farm.

Blake, from left, Ryan, Abby and Katie VanPelt pose with plaques won at the Minnesota State FFA level. Photo provided

“I just really love working with animals,” Katie said. “It creates a bond between you and the animal, and that’s what’s really special to me. You spend a lot of hours with them, and you get to take them into the show ring and see your hard work pay off.”

Abby and Katie help their family tend their sheep flock, and Katie also takes care of the horse she has had for six years. She’s considering equine science as her focus in college, while Abby plans to pursue a degree in microbiology or sports medicine.

The three siblings are all taking PSEO classes through Riverland Community College, which is where Blake discovered his passion for precision ag.

“One of my favorite areas of ag is the precision ag,” Blake said. “I enjoy technology and seeing how things work. It really comes down to the marriage of two of my passions: technology and agriculture.”

Precision ag is the use of data — like testing the pH balance and nutrients in the soil — to improve farming.

Blake hopes to translate that passion into a career someday by attending college to get a degree in electrical engineering with a possible minor in precision ag or agronomy.

The great thing about their long-time involvement in 4-H and FFA, the VanPelts agreed, is that they have been able to explore a wide variety of interests. The projects and opportunities aren’t contained to topics like corn, soybeans and farm animals. Some kids take on photography projects or design and make clothing; others try their hand at woodworking or cooking.

The VanPelts have dabbled in several areas, including horses, sheep, growing crops, videography, and Blake’s personal favorite: food review.

“That’s one of the project areas that I particularly enjoy,” Blake said. “What you do is you prepare a recipe, and it’s about the whole meal, so you have to decide what sides would go really good and you have to decide what kind of place setting you’ll want. There’s so much you need to do and know for it that you really get to show your knowledge.”

All the siblings agree, their involvement in these organizations has given them skills they’ll use well into the future. With just one more year of 4-H and FFA in store for them before college, they plan to make the most of every last opportunity.

“We’re very thankful for both of these organizations,” Abby said. “They’ve helped shape what we want to do in our futures.”

That future will certainly involve advocating for sustainable agriculture practices and educating others about all the ways agriculture touches our daily lives.

“I want to do my best to not only continue to learn about agriculture, but to educate other people and be a proud representative of agriculture — to help tell our story,” Blake said.

And of course, their parents will be there to continue supporting them along the way.

“Bob and I are just really proud of them all,” said Jodi. “We’re proud to be a part of agriculture, and just being good stewards of the land is very important to us.”