Michigan Farm Bureau’s 2021 Presidential Volunteer of the Year is Missaukee County Farm Bureau leader Ellen Vanderwal.
Attracting epithets like “rock star,” “ball of fire” and “force of nature,” Vanderwal’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm for sharing agriculture with the non-farming world has made her a role model for volunteers statewide and across a wide swath of Farm Bureau programming.
Vanderwal was just 19 when she first joined the organization more than 50 years ago, when her local Farm Bureau was looking to engage more young members. She wet her feet in what was then the Women’s Committee, decades before it evolved into Michigan’s marquee Promotion & Education (P&E) program.
Vanderwal focuses her efforts wherever she can reach the most people at once, from schools and public libraries to downtown business districts. Her work in Lake City schools includes working with teachers to launch Pi Day activities, Ag in the Classroom lessons, FARM Crate distribution and mentoring Jen Nichols, her nomination for this year’s Ag Educator of the Year.
“Ellen is a ball of fire, all the time, and very passionate about agriculture and teaching everybody about agriculture,” said Missaukee County Farm Bureau President Jodi DeHate.“She just wants everybody to know more about agriculture.”
Over the years Vanderwal has carried Missaukee County’s communications efforts and Local History Team, taken part in national affairs and political action activities, coordinated YPCS recruitment and along the way added several Volunteer of the Month statuettes to her trophy case.
“I just love what Farm Bureau offers,” Vanderwal said. “It’s one of the organizations that I probably have gotten the most out of in my life. “Farm Bureau to me is almost like a family. They treat me like family, and I feel a big part of it. I don’t feel like an outsider. It’s just a really good organization and I love what I do.”
Vanderwal and her husband Frank are retired dairy farmers; their son Ryan runs a local company installing robotic milking equipment for dairies across the region.
The annual Volunteer of the Year recognition honors members who exhibit a commitment to agriculture in their local community and who are instrumental to the success of their county Farm Bureau.