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Petaluma born and raised, high school senior Jessie Peterson plans to be a lifelong resident and turn her agriculture interests into a local career.

Active for most of her life in 4H and FFA programs, Peterson also works at a local veterinary office and sees a future for herself in teaching ag.

Some teens struggle for direction and focus, but that isn't an issue with the 18-year-old Petaluma High School senior.

"I'm going to go to the JC for two years, get my general ed and go through the ag ambassador program," Peterson said.

Then it's Chico State for a double major in animal science and agriculture education.

"My goal is to come back to Sonoma County and teach ag education at a local high school and be an FFA adviser," she said.

Petaluma holds a strong pull for her.

"I definitely want to be here for as long as I can be," she said. "That would be really cool."

The southern Sonoma County town isn't just home, it's full of family connections and legacies.

Her mother, Dodie Gibbe Peterson, was born and raised in Petaluma and her father, Lew Peterson, is almost a lifelong resident.

Jessie's footsteps at Petaluma High echo those made by her sister, Kasey, 21, and her parents.

The family also lives on the three-acre westside farm were her mother was raised.

Nearby, Peterson's grandparents Ray and Ettamarie Peterson have Peterson Farms, a pumpkin patch destination and bee farm.

Her desire to teach also could be genetic.

"I am from a long line of educators. My grandma, both of my aunts and my cousin are all teachers," she said.

Peterson has been involved with 4H and FFA since she was young.

"It's my 13th year in the program. I've always been in Liberty 4H."

As she grew, so did the size of the animals she raised.

Dairy cattle have been her main project for about nine years, although she still raises market lambs and has chickens, rabbits, dogs and cats.

She's won the Supreme Junior Champion award for her heifer Gabby.

"I raised her, her mother and grandmother since birth, so it was really amazing to have her win."

She also has won the Tesconi Memorial Award at the Sonoma County Fair two years ago, which is based on how much a teen shows and how well they place.

"It's basically awarded to the best overall exhibitor," she said.

Last year, she won the Kiwanis Ag merit award at the fair, given for community service and achievements at past fairs.

In school, Peterson's grades are at 4.0 and she strives to hone her leadership skills.

She was junior class treasurer last year and this year is Associated Student Body treasurer. She also helped with Petaluma High's annual Relay for Life fundraiser, aiding the American Cancer Society.

Kerry Lowell, Peterson's leadership teacher and head of the school's business department, said Peterson is who she turns to when something needs to be done.

"I have seen her work hard to balance all the demands on her life between ASB, FFA, her regular school work, her job and the animals she cares for," Lowell said. "That is impressive for someone so young."

(You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.)

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