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Farming Your Future exposes students to agriculture careers
May 17, 2017

Mount Markham students talk to Steve Miller from Cornell Cooperative Extension
Mount Markham sixth-graders Samantha Sadler (left) and Hannah Ferguson talk to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County hop specialist Steve Miller during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

FRANKFORT – Near the end of the first Farming Your Future event on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds in Frankfort, Mount Markham sixth-graders Mackenzie Roth, Samantha Sadler and Hannah Ferguson were still filled with excitement as they visited exhibitors in the plant science zone.

“It’s been a really great experience,” Mackenzie said. “It’s been really fun. “It really teaches you a lot about agriculture. I learned a lot more than I thought I would.”

Hannah said sampling maple cotton candy was her favorite part of the day, but she also learned a lot about agriculture.

“I liked it,” she said.

Samantha agreed with her classmates.

“All I can say is it’s really fun,” Samantha said. “I could stay here all day.”

A few minutes later, Samantha ran back over to add some additional thoughts about talking to exhibitors at the event about agriculture.

“It’s fun. They tell us new things that we didn’t know,” she said. “And then we can tell our parents things they don’t know.”

That type of enthusiasm from young students about agriculture was one of the reasons the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES School To Careers program and the STC Agriculture Committee decided to lead a regional effort to put on Farming Your Future in partnership with Madison-Oneida BOCES and Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES.

Farming Your Future included about 1,000 students in grades 6-10 from more than 25 school districts and educational programs in the three-BOCES region. Students were able to tour four agriculture zones – animal science, plant science, end products and technology and equipment – featuring a total of more than 50 exhibitors. Students also were able to watch mainstage presentations featuring the Stockbridge Valley FFA, Mohawk Valley Community College Drones and Finger Lakes Dairy.

Students also were provided lunch and visited a pledge station, where they were able to sign a pledge on “making a lifetime of informed choices respecting agriculture and the environment.”

Something for everybody

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets hosted seven booths for students at Farming Your Future, and Raquel Gonzalez, director of policy for the department, visited the various agriculture zones.
Gonzalez said she appreciated that there were exhibitors from so many different career fields within agriculture and that there were hands-on activities to engage students.

“I think it’s exciting to see so many young students learning about agriculture and a wide range of ag-related careers,” Gonzalez said. “There is something here for everybody.”

Herkimer BOCES School To Careers Director Dr. Christopher Groves, whose Ph.D. has a focus on rural education, said it was important to ensure Farming Your Future would resonate with students from districts where children are familiar with agriculture and from districts where that isn’t the case.

“If they can all walk away with something, then that’s great,” he said. “Today is really about exposing students to agriculture, agribusiness and agritourism.”

School to Careers and the STC Agriculture Committee identified Farming Your Future as something that would be a proactive response to a regional need, Groves said.

“Certainly, the region is rich and robust in agriculture, and we need to better connect students to it,” he said. “One of the terms that has been dubbed for this event is ‘where agriculture meets education,’ and that has come to life. We need to get students more involved in the agriculture field.”

Regional events such as Farming Your Future allow students to be introduced to a broader range of career opportunities, Groves said.

“We should no longer allow our regional borders to restrict students from opportunities,” Groves said. “Our students deserve so much more, and we as educators, are in a position to provide them those opportunities.”

Different paths

Chobani community engagement coordinator Donald Brown and human resources manager Valerie Wasielewski handed out Chobani yogurt and drinks to students during Farming Your Future.

When Brown heard that Farming Your Future involved agriculture, kids, education and supporting our local dairy industry, he knew Chobani would be involved, he said.

“That’s our world,” he said. “It’s just a natural fit for us.”

Farming Your Future fills a need because if you’re not raised on a farm, it can be difficult to get introduced to the agriculture industry, Brown said.

“So if we can engage kids in agriculture at a young age and help them see that there are fun, exciting industries that are right in their backyard, that’s a great thing,” he said.

Steve Miller, a hops specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County, also talked to students at his booth about the variety of jobs that are involved with agriculture.

“It’s fun to be around the kids,” he said. “They’re all interested in different things.”

Megan Lamb, District V president for the Stockbridge Valley FFA, Jacob Ax, New York State FFA treasurer, discussed during their mainstage presentation the availability of agriculture jobs related to science, education, mechanics, tourism and more.

“Everybody’s path in agriculture can be different,” Lamb said. “You don’t have to wake up and milk cows every day to be involved in agriculture.”

Students educating students

Herkimer County Dairy Princess Connie Frasier and alternate Ashley Teachout spoke to students about dairy through games at their booth.

“It’s a lot of fun teaching kids new things,” Frasier said.

Teachout, a junior of Richfield Springs, is a Herkimer BOCES outdoor power equipment student.

“It’s interesting,” she said, of speaking to students at Farming Your Future. “A lot of kids don’t know about the dairy industry, and it’s cool to teach them.”

Vernon-Verona-Sherrill students Vincetta Borst, a senior, and Emma Miller, a freshman, were among the students from the VVS FFA who were there to show guests the VVS Maple Truck, make samples of maple cotton candy and teach about producing maple syrup.

“It’s cool for them to learn,” said Borst, who is an officer in the VVS FFA. “Some of the things, you see the way their eyes light up, and they get excited. It’s just nice to see them get excited for something.”

Emma also said she enjoyed talking to students and helping students get interested in agriculture at a young age.

“It’s a great experience,” she said.

Holland Patent seventh-graders Collin Alexander and Maddox Williams talked to the VVS students about maple production. They said they enjoyed the different samples and things to do throughout Farming Your Future.

“It’s good,” Collin said.

“It’s very educational,” Maddox said.

‘Learning a lot’

Kim Salm, of Salmstead Farm, presented in the animal science zone with her granddaughter, West Canada Valley ninth-grader Madesen Spellman. Madesen was able to purchase a shorthorn cow through the Herkimer County 4-H program, and the cow had two daughters, so Madesen now has three cows that make up Maddy’s Milking Shorthorns.

Salm said Madesen – who was there along with her cow, Gracelyn – did a great job of talking to other students.

“They’re learning a lot today,” Salm said.

Salm said she was glad she was asked to be part of Farming Your Future.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I think kids need to be involved in agriculture. They need to know who feeds them.”

West Canada Valley ninth-grader Harold Goodwin works at Salmstead Farm and visited the farm’s location at Farming Your Future. He said he is considering a career in agriculture and was particularly interested in the nutrition and seeding information he learned during the event.

“It was fun,” he said. “I liked it.”

‘A great vision’

Local officials including Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace, Herkimer County Legislature Chairman Bernard Peplinski, Oneida County Legislator Keith Schiebel, and Herkimer County Legislators Frederick Shaw, Robert Schrader and Greg Malta Sr. – as well as representatives from state Sen. Joseph Griffo’s office and state Assemblyman Brian Miller’s office – attended Farming Your Future.

“I just think it’s a great event,” Wallace said. “To expose kids to our No. 1 industry, agriculture, and to do it in a regional approach like this event does, I think it’s fantastic.”

Schiebel said Farming Your Future was a great way to start a new agriculture event.

“Definitely a perfect venue, a perfect audience and the perfect event from the standpoint that it features agriculture,” Schiebel said. “The purpose is exposing students to agriculture, and agriculture is the leading industry in Central New York.”

Schiebel also was happy to see that students from a wide range of school districts attended the event.

“The partnership across the three BOCES was key because you have a very diverse group of students here, and that was very important,” Schiebel said.

Schrader also said he thought it was a great event.

“Being a past farmer, I want to encourage this,” Schrader said. “Anytime you can get the youth involved in this area, it’s a great thing because the youth are our future.”

Malta said students are often over-exposed to negativity about the region.

“Anything positive like this is a great vision,” he said. “It gives the kids vision.”

Peplinski said it was a pleasure to attend Farming Your Future and see students learning about agriculture.

“I think we have to get our students involved,” Peplinski said. “Our students – even though we are in a rural area – don’t always know that agriculture is our No. 1 industry. There are so many opportunities in agriculture. This is how you get the kids interested in it. I think it’s great.”

Community support

Farming Your Future received widespread support.

In addition to the more than 50 exhibitors and presenters who volunteered for the event, there were many student volunteers on hand. Herkimer BOCES culinary students prepared food for exhibitors, and Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES culinary students Herkimer BOCES students and VVS FFA students supported the day in various roles.

The event also was made possible by several sponsors. Farming Your Future was sponsored by Byrne Dairy, Cabot Cheese, Carlo Masi Sons and Daughters, Chobani, Doug Thompson, Hannaford, Jill Rae Signs, Nirvana, Stewart’s Shops, Utz Quality Foods and Walmart.

The village of Frankfort police and fire departments were also on hand, as well as the Mohawk Valley Ambulance Corps.

Additionally, many local school and government officials provided statements expressing their support of Farming Your Future including the following:

Madison-Oneida BOCES Career and Technical Education Principal Erin Noto:
“It is apparent to us, that as a society, we are coming full circle in regards to agriculture, and all of the other industries that have progressively stemmed off of it.  There are so many opportunities in this field that our students can truly benefit from and that can be found right here in our area.  We are excited to explore how we can market all facets of this industry to future generations.”

Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES District Superintendent Howard D. Mettelman:
“The Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES has been actively involved in developing partnerships with the agricultural industry through the recent Agriculture Summits held in concert with the Greater Mohawk Valley STEM Hub and Mohawk Valley EDGE. The Farming Your Future event offers students in our school districts the opportunity to explore a variety of career fields in the agricultural industry.  These opportunities will introduce students to exciting careers in the areas of agribusiness, agritourism and agriculture. Students have the opportunity to engage with professionals in the agricultural field offering them real-world experience in this most important industry. Our school districts and our School and Business Alliance welcome this new partnership and are confident that the Farming Your Future experience will assist students to gain insight and a greater understanding of the skills and coursework necessary to enter the many career options in the field of agriculture.”

U.S. Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
“Farming Your Future is a tremendous educational resource and initiative that brings students together with local organizations to learn more about our agricultural industry in upstate New York. As the number one industry in the state, it is vitally important that we continue to build and grow our agriculture sector here in the Mohawk Valley, and this initiative will allow our future farmers to gain detailed insight into the industry through interactions with local leaders. I commend the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES School To Careers program, Madison-Oneida BOCES, Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES and the School To Careers Agriculture Committee for working together to make this event a success, and for their continued dedication to strengthening our local agricultural industry through the education of our future farmers.”

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.:
“I applaud BOCES for its effort to enrich the lives of our community youth through the benefits of agriculture. Here in Oneida County, agriculture is our No. 1 industry, and we continue to foster its growth in order to drive our economy forward. Giving students access to industry professionals, providing them with mentors and connecting them with future careers in agriculture will ensure the success of the entire region.”

State Sen. Joseph Griffo:
“The importance of agriculture as an industry in the progress of New York state cannot be overstated enough, with family farms making the most of our fertile lands and often passing along their success for generations. But in order to continue this important legacy, we must educate and inspire younger generations of farmers to be part of this ever-evolving industry and tradition. By exposing local students to the diverse career opportunities and innovative approaches that exist in farming today, the Farming Your Future event is a great way for students to better understand the role that agriculture plays in our region.” 

State Sen. James Seward:
Farming has served as the backbone of New York’s economy for generations, and here in the Mohawk Valley, it is a way of life. I have advanced a number of state programs to grow our agriculture economy, including vital measures to help young people get started and be a part of our farming future.  Today’s event is a terrific way to inform our next generation of farmers about the diverse opportunities that exist in traditional farming and innovative new ag-related businesses. I applaud our area BOCES programs for putting together this showcase and the ongoing education they provide.”

State Assemblyman Brian Miller:
“This one-of- a-kind program brings students face-to- face with career opportunities they may never have considered otherwise. This is an exciting step for transitioning students from school to careers. I have long said that higher education, while a wonderful opportunity for some, is not the path for all. Many students have dreams and career goals that don’t include college, but instead involve getting right into the workforce. The agricultural industry is a major driver of the economy in New York state, and this program promotes a win-win scenario by promoting alternate career paths in this essential industry.”

State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi:
“It is very important for students to find out about different careers while they are young, and the Farming Your Future event will do that. Providing students in sixth through 10th grades a day where they can talk with exhibitors in different aspects of agriculture will give them a head start as they begin to make career decisions. Agriculture remains one of New York’s major industries, and today, agricultural jobs involve specialized skills such as plant science, veterinary science and repairing high-tech equipment. I want to commend area BOCES districts and the STC Agriculture Committee for organizing this exciting event.”

West Canada Valley students and a cow at Farming Your Future
West Canada Valley ninth-graders Harold Goodwin (left) and Madesen Spellman pose with Madesen’s cow, Gracelyn, during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

Students taking on VVS FFA Maple Truck
Vernon-Verona-Sherrill freshman Emma Miller talks to Holland Patent seventh-grader Collin Alexander about the VVS FFA Maple Truck during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

Students watching mainstage presentation
Students from a three-BOCES region watch a mainstage presentation by Finger Lakes Dairy during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

Students and local officials at Farming Your Future
From left, Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace, Waterville eighth-grader Jacob Barth, Waterville eighth-grader Nikko Recchio, Oneida County Legislator Keith Schiebel and Herkimer County Legislature Chairman Bernard Peplinski mingle at Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

Chris Groves and Raquel Gonzalez at Farming Your Future
Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES School To Careers Director Dr. Christopher Groves (left) talks to New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Director of Policy Raquel Gonzalez during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

The Herkimer County Dairy Princesses at Farming Your Future
Herkimer County Dairy Princess Connie Frasier (left) and alternate Ashley Teachout educated local students about the dairy industry during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

Stockbridge Valley FFA presentation at Farming Your Future
(Left) Jacob Ax, New York State FFA treasurer, and Megan Lamb, District V president for the Stockbridge Valley FFA, give a mainstage presentation about the variety of potential career paths in agriculture during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

Herkimer County Legislators by the agriculture pledge at Farming Your Future
Herkimer County Legislators Robert Schrader (left) and Greg Malta Sr. were among the many officials, exhibitors and students to sign an agriculture pledge during Farming Your Future on Wednesday, May 17, at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

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