Years before “social media influencers,” there were equally powerful (and arguably more significant) “ag encouragers” such as 24-year Vista High School AgriScience teacher/FFA advisor Sara Benner. Three of Don Diego’s top scholarship recipients between 2015-2021 blossomed under her tutelage; they are among some 3,000 students shepherded over Sara’s rewarding career.

“I’ve taught multiple siblings,” Sara remarks, “including my sons Canyon and Dakota, a senior and sophomore, respectively. I’m now teaching kids of kids I taught two decades ago!”

Sara Benner with Top 2016 Don Diego scholarship recipient Yessica Valentin

She makes the magic happen on a compact, 3/4-acre school farm alive with rabbits, hogs, lambs, goats, cattle, poultry and a couple pheasants, plus greenhouses. The real magic happens within the students.

Sara explains, “Only a small number pursue agriculture, but all learn valuable skills for success in career and life. FFA teaches time management, networking, event planning, public speaking, being responsible, and rising to the challenges of unexpected situations. Students learn the value and rewards of hard work.”

Growing up in Pasadena, Sara was not born into the field that became her calling, but once this animal lover discovered her passion living on a cattle ranch while attending Cal Poly SLO, she was hooked. “My oldest son’s father was a working cowboy,” she confides. “I took an agriculture education course, understood how it related to real life, and realized, ‘I could do this for a career and be happy.’ I have been!”

Countless Sara Benner students have received Junior Livestock Auction and FFA scholarships. Noting that Don Diego is one of only a few local organizations that recognize and reward students for their ag-related achievements preparing them for college or skilled trade paths, her efforts in perpetuating our region’s rich agricultural traditions while educating new generations of Scholar-Leaders aligns perfectly with Don Diego’s mission.

This extraordinarily motivating educator believes, “Students can find value in agriculture because we find value in them.”