New England FFA State Officers Gather in Vermont

Pictured: Maine FFA State Vice President and State President enjoy Lake Champlain Boat Tour during regional FFA training in Vermont.

On June 26-30, 2022, twenty-two student State Officers of the FFA—formerly known as “Future Farmers of America”—from the states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont gathered in Middlebury, Vermont to learn about workshop development and presentation techniques, as well as communication skills to implement during their upcoming year of service for their nearly 5,000 FFA members grades 7 to 12. Among these Officers were Nickie Deschaine, Maine FFA State President and Lane McCrum, Maine FFA State Vice President.

FFA members are students enrolled in classes/programs related to agriculture and natural resources at schools with registered FFA chapters. This training was supported by the sponsorship of the Northeast Agricultural Education Foundation, Farm Credit East, and the National FFA Organization. As the largest student-led organization in the country, with over 735,000 members, FFA relies on its State Officers to implement programs for local FFA members, raise FFA member awareness to opportunities in agriculture, natural resources and the FFA and represent their members at various in-state, regional and national events.

The Vermont training took place at the North Campus of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury and was facilitated by past National FFA Officers David Lopez (California) and Paxton Dahmer (Missouri), with additional motivational sessions conducted by current National FFA Southern Region Vice President Erik Robinson (Georgia).

Guest presenters Ben Leduc, Loan Officer, and Courtney Bronson, Tax Associate, spoke on the work of Farm Credit East and potential job opportunities for students. FFA Officers participated in a number of highly engaging sessions, enjoyed some outings to local restaurants and locations of interest (such as Crown Point State Historic Site in New York).

Officers commenting on the workshop noted that the main highlight was the chance to return to an in-person opportunity to get to know their peers from other New England states. They left the training indicating significant gains in both their confidence levels and technical abilities associated with developing and implementing workshops. Officers praised the training efforts of both facilitators and the National FFA Officer. Accompanying students were 9 adults from the New England FFA community, including the State Advisors from each of the five participating state programs.

Maine FFA State Convention Back in Person

The Maine FFA State Convention returned—following two virtual years due to COVID-19, as an in-person event on May 12-13, 2022.  Formerly known as “Future Farmers of America,” FFA is the largest student-led organization in the country.  Attended by over 250 FFA members, judges, guests and family members, this event, normally held at the University of Maine in Orono, was conducted for the first time in Presque Isle.  

The Presque Isle location highlighted numerous agricultural opportunities of that area and relied on the joint hosting of both the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Northern Maine Community College.  The two-day event featured competitions, agricultural and natural resources tours, community service events, a social event at Gentile Hall (the University of Maine at Presque Isle gymnasium and field house), and a chance to recognize the many achievements of middle and high school FFA members from throughout the year as well as at Convention. 

Maine’s FFA State Officer team, Nickie Deschaine (President), Delaney McKeen (Vice President) and Ryder Brewer (Secretary-Treasurer), all originally from Central Aroostook High School, led the program, assisted by Clark Condon (Ashland High School),  Lane McCrum (Central Aroostook High School) and Noah Rooney (Presque Isle Tech Center).  Events were conducted and assisted by staff from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Northern Maine Community College, the University of Maine, Orono, the University of Maine, Augusta in Bangor, the Maine Department of Education, teachers from local high schools and technical schools, former student FFA Officers, Northern Maine FFA Alumni, State FFA Officers from Connecticut, and representatives from a number of local agricultural and natural resources businesses and organizations.

Student competitions ranged from areas of environment and natural resources management, forestry and horse evaluation to agribusiness, employment skills, agricultural technology and mechanical systems and safe tractor driving.  Students involved in public speaking events gained monetary prizes for their achievements.  Tours included the hosting colleges, the Presque Isle Tech Center farm and greenhouse, the Penobscot McCrum potato plant in Washburn, Columbia Forest Products and Aroostook Truss in Presque Isle and Huber Engineered Woods in Easton.  Community service events included work in the Presque Isle Community Garden, assisting the Presque Isle Recreation Department in yard work and trail work, and working on the University of Maine at Presque Isle community garden and greenhouse.

Students received over $15,000 in awards, prizes and scholarships, with 9 students receiving $1,000 scholarships to attend the 2022 National FFA Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C..  Convention participants gained professional skills related to agriculture and natural resources, practiced team work, and enjoyed the insights shared by their retiring State FFA Officers and by President Raymond Rice of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, President Tim Crowley of Northern Maine Community College, Deputy Commissioner Dan Chuhta of the Maine Department of Education, and National FFA Secretary Jackson Sylvester, from Delaware.  Students left the event energized for the coming FFA year and with many positive memories of their events and the students they got to meet from other schools.  Newly elected officers for the coming year include the re-election of Nickie Deschaine as President and the selection of Lane McCrum as the 2022-2023 Vice President.

For more information on FFA and on establishing a Maine FFA chapter, please contact:  Doug Robertson, FFA State Advisor in the Maine Department of Education, doug.robertson@maine.gov  207-624-6744.

Molly Ockett School 3rd Graders Study Maine Forests in Outdoor Classroom

Brian Cushing, a 3rd grade teacher at Molly Ockett School in MSAD 72 was looking to do something different with his students this past fall after a year of working indoors through the pandemic.

Inspired by a “Forests of Maine Teacher Study Tour” he took in the summer of 2021 at the Maine Outdoor Center on Millinocket Lake near Mt. Katahdin, Cushing created a lesson for his 3rd graders that gave them the opportunity to study Maine forests.

“Our field experiences [on the Forests of Maine Teacher Study Tour] were what inspired me most to have my students get outside and learn about forestry,” said Cushing. “Our teacher field experiences took us from harvesting and processing the harvest to retail operations.”

In a 10-session study that integrated reading, writing, technology, science, and geography components, Cushing collaborated with Tin Mountain Conservation to create something really special for this students. He worked with Tin Mountain to co-teach lessons on tree identification, internal structure/components of trees and how to tell how old a tree is when cut down by counting rings on tree cookies.

Cushing decided to use their local school site in Fryeburg, which is located on several acres of mixed woods on one side, for a place to set up their outdoor classroom.

“Students enjoyed having an outdoor classroom,” said Cushing. “Being indoors so much of the day during this pandemic can be monotonous, and even though protocols are in place for outdoor classrooms, it was a change, the air was fresh, and they were learning about a new topic.”

In addition to learning about tree science, the students also studied animal habitat, and what mammals live in the Maine woods. They kept science journals for their weekly lessons, the majority of which were outside at their school site. They also worked in teams of two or three and used their laptops to research selected Maine mammals such as black bear, moose, snowshoe hare, flying squirrels, and bobcat, and then created visuals to present their findings to their classmates, as experts on their chosen mammal.

“They were so enthusiastic to research and write about their mammal, and then to present to the class,” said Cushing. “This was the first time any of them had been able to do any kind of team work since the pandemic hit.”

As part of the collaboration with Tin Mountain, students also had the opportunity to assemble a Maine moose skeleton in class, as part of a traveling museum that came to their classroom. Students also got see a Maine black bear skin, a taxidermied pileated woodpecker, and a saw-whet owl.

“The best part for me was seeing how integration really makes sense to students,” Cushing reflected.

To learn more about Tin Mount Conservation visit their website. To learn more about Mr. Cushing’s study on Maine forests, reach out to him at brian.cushing@msad72.org.

Mini-Grant Funds of up to $2,000 Available for CTE Culinary Arts Programs

The application process is now open for mini-grant funds from the UMaine Extension Professional Development in Agriculture Literacy (PDAL) program to support Maine High School Career & Technical Education (CTE) Culinary Arts Instructors.

These funds can be used for agricultural literacy education programs at Maine High School CTE Culinary Arts Programs. The deadline for email submission of the application materials is 5:00pm on March 1, 2022. Selected projects will receive funds by March 31, 2022.

Follow this link for grant applications: https://maine.agclassroom.org/programs/grants/

To apply, complete the application form and provide a short description of your proposed project, estimated budget, timeline, and how it will impact agricultural literacy education and/or promote the use of local foods in your Culinary Arts Program.

For more information or technical support contact Kathy Savoie at ksavoie@maine.edu.

Teacher’s Creative Lessons on Food Insecurity Lead to Agriculture Award

Image: Manchester School Principal Danielle Donnini (left) and Fourth Grade Teacher/Awardee, Stacey Sanborn (right).

Stacey Sanborn, a fourth-grade teacher at Manchester School in Windham, has had a lifelong passion for gardening, especially as it alleviates food insecurity. She’s passed that love on to her students. It is for her innovative and creative approach that Sanborn has been awarded the Maine Agriculture In The Classroom Teacher of the Year (MAITC) Award for 2022.

The MAITC organization singled out Sanborn as a teacher who incorporates agricultural education in the classroom while at the same time, aligning it with core curriculum standards in science, math, social studies, and art. But perhaps just as importantly, Sanborn also introduces the importance of food insecurity and how it affects others’ lives.

Sanborn said incorporating gardening as part of the curriculum is important because Maine is a farming and aquaculture state, and students get to experience how much we are all a part of something bigger and how life is interrelated.

“Teaching students about agriculture helps them to develop the understanding of where our food comes from,” she said. “Students can see the importance of protecting a long Maine tradition of farming. It gets them out of the classroom and into the outdoors where the students are motivated learners with plenty of opportunity for fun and hands-on experiences.”

Her students are involved in all parts of the gardening process – from seed to harvest – and as they do so, they learn the traditional “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Ways in which the conventional curriculum is a part of the gardening program include activities such as composting and soil experiments, pollination, keeping detailed records, data collection, and analysis to name just a few. Sanborn also points out that the social studies curriculum plays a strong role in Manchester School’s agriculture program.

“Gardening offers the guiding principles of being part of a community and being an active problem solver,” she said. “Doing something for others – even if it is something small – can have a big impact.”

Some of what the students grow, they get to sample, making some of their favorite recipes such as carrot muffins and “Amazing Carrot Soup.” What they can’t use in the cafeteria, they give to the RSU 14 nutrition program and the Windham Food Pantry. But the social responsibility the students learn in Sanborn’s class doesn’t end there.

“A former student-gardener who lived with food insecurity started their own garden at home and were so successful they were able to share produce with other families in need,” Sanborn said.

The Manchester School teacher says she feels very honored to be a part of this program and is grateful for the recognition from MAITC, however, she believes this is not her award alone.

“I must recognize a former colleague, Master Gardener, and a great mentor, Pam Lenz,” Sanborn said. “She has put so much effort into this program and is a major part of its success. Pam has helped me to achieve everything I’ve done, and it is a true partnership. She was instrumental in keeping the program going during the early days of the pandemic when schools were not meeting in person. She continued by starting seedlings, planting them in the garden, and creating gardening videos that were used as part of the remote learning experience. Pam is just as an important part of this award and I couldn’t have done it without her.”