May 152017
 

karen-gagne-webBy Karen Hatch Gagne, Director

The Agricultural Committee has been busy this spring.  Following the Agricultural Legislative Luncheon, the committee has judged Agricultural Scholarship applications and applicants are being notified by June 1, 2017.   We have finalized information and criteria for the Grange Exhibits at the 2017 Agricultural Fairs and letters to our Grange judges is being sent out momentarily.  Criteria for the Grange Educational Exhibits have been completed and will be posted online.  If you need a hardcopy please contact the State Grange Headquarters.

We are now working on arrangements for the Agricultural Luncheon at the State Grange Conference in October.  Once a speaker has been confirmed I will be sharing the information out to all.  Please plan to attend this luncheon we are pleased to have this opportunity to offer an Agricultural Luncheon again in conjunction with the State Grange Conference.

We are looking for donations to use in our silent auction to support our Grange Agricultural scholarship. Anyone who has items to donate please contact me so I can arrange for pick up.  Thank you!

Hope your month of May brings sunshine and warm soil and garden plants!

May 142017
 

HeatherBy Heather Retberg

This week passed again in a soggy mist. When the skies cleared periodically, we worked at spring things. Phil and Carolyn and Ben worked at training the piglets to electric fence. We raise them in the woods as it’s just the best place for them to root and revel and run and croodle and do all things expressing their full pigness. But… first, comes the sometimes difficult task of fence training. When they come to us, they are little and sweet and aww-shucks piggledy cute. They are not yet at all cognizant of any kind of boundary. Up until last year, we had a fairly reliable pig training method. We stayed close. We observed. We fetched them out when they hit the fence. We made sure they didn’t get tangled. We made sure they went backward and not forward. They learned to avoid the fence and we knew they’d be safe and sound in the woods.

But, last year, there were long hours of pig chases in the woods. Long, tense hours. So, this year, extra precautions were taken–visible, physical barriers were added to the offset electrical one inside a smallish training paddock. The day to train them came when the sun shone again. I was out of commission for the day, so the brave three headed to the woods, fairly confident, hopeful leastwise, that the new and improved system would return us to our happier pig training days of yore. At day’s end, the pigs would be trained and we could work on getting the barned and cooped up animals turned out. Phhht. Carolyn returned from the training session exclaiming that these piglets are just crazy. Phil concurred–they ran kamikaze style right into the electric fence, two squeezed through the hog panel (so named presumably because it’s effective at fencing pigs!) and out into the woods. Thankfully, they wanted to return to the safe and sound hut-home Phil set up for them with some herding help from the pig crew trio.  But, with rain coming, the crazed pigs would have to be trained on a different day. There were fences to tighten up, water lines to run and check for leaks. This week, the cows would be turned out, never mind the pigs just yet. For now, they could cozy up in their piglet hut until another day.

Two days of mostly dry skies gave Phil time to mend fences and water lines in anticipation of Friday turnout day. Running water that won’t freeze in hoses and lines means we’re not dragging hoses and buckets to animals. Ahhh. Cows on pasture means so much less shoveling. Cows out of the barn means winter is finally over. Release. Relief. Contentment for farmers and cows for the growing season to come. This part of the work week went smoothly and come Friday, the dairy mavens were released from barn and dry hay to green pastures in the fresh, albeit moist, air again. Winter’s not really over ’til turnout day. When the cows go back out onto pasture, a little corner of the heart goes galloping along with them. Udders swingin’, heels kicking up, heads rubbing the good green earth again, the cows just let go of all the weight of long winter. They kick it up, they thrash it out, they test each other again. Our settled dairy queens act crazed and spring-feverish for a few short moments, but once a year.

Then, there was the duck. The determined duck. Last year, she had a habit, a way of getting up into the hayloft without, naturally, climbing all those stairs. There’s a good deal of loose hay in the loft at any given time and it makes a very desirable, quiet, out of the way, nesting spot for any fowl so inclined. IF said fowl can get up there. Last year, one duck would stand on the partially built shed beam at just the right distance of rise over run, well, rise over fly, to work her way up to flying through an open window. However, you might remember that Phil has done a substantial amount of work on the barn since last fall. Her old launch pad has been enclosed into a bonafide shed closing off her access to that window opening. Mid-week, I came out for morning tending to find her perched on the deck railing, looking longingly at the new hay loft opening. The rise looked too steep to me, but I was curious to know what she’d do. I went about my usual rounds. Next time I passed by, she had given up the deck railing approach and moved to perch on the upturned garden cart in the new shed that gave her access to the old windows. Only that was really a steep rise. I couldn’t imagine she could quite get into flight in that short, steep space. But, I was curious to know what she’d do. Next time I passed by, she’d moved over against the wall in the new shed up onto two hay bales stacked on top of one another that were, more or less, where the old beam had been. The rise looked about right from there. How she made me smile. From there, I could guess just what she’d do. Next time I passed by, she must’ve done it, because she wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Oh, such duck-ed determination!  I haven’t yet checked, but I’d bet a few dollars that she’s found herself a nesting spot up in the hayloft again.

Whether piglets, cows, or the good old duck, these critters are teaching all sorts of lessons at the Quill’s End Farm School this week. I know I’m taking them forward into the next season. Hope you can as well.

###

Heather and Phil Retberg together with their three children run Quill’s End Farm, a 105-acre property in Penobscot that they bought in 2004. They use rotational grazing on their fifteen open acres and are renovating thirty more acres from woods to pasture to increase grazing for their pigs, grass-fed cattle, lambs, laying hens, and goats. Heather is Master of Halcyon Grange #345 and writes a newsletter for their farm’s buying clubs for farmers in her area and has generously given us permission to share some of her columns with Grangers throughout the state.


Grange members are invited to submit guest columns to Views from the Farm for consideration by emailing the webmaster. Please note that the views and opinions expressed in contributed articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Grange.

May 102017
 

The following invitation has been issued by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.


 

Please provide proper attribution when using material.

Don’t miss your chance to participate in the 28th Anniversary of Open Farm Day scheduled on Sunday, July 23, 2017! We are looking forward to this opportunity to promote Maine’s diverse agricultural community.

 

Open Farm Day is the perfect way to connect with neighbors, your town, interested visitors and tourists and teach them about how their food and fiber is produced. Many who attend bring children to learn and connect with local farms. If you would like to participate, please sign up online at this link and complete the online form. Please mail or email a copy of your Certificate of Insurance, to:

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, ATTN: Open Farm Day, 28 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0028 Or Fax: (207) 287-7548.

The completed form and certificate of insurance must be received NO LATER than Friday, May 19th. If we do not receive your materials by this date, your farm will not be listed in the promotional materials used to showcase this event. Farms that do not provide a Certificate of Insurance are not eligible to participate.

All new participants who meet the requirements and deadline for promotions will receive an official Open Farm Day Participant flag, while supplies last, to help promote your involvement in this annual event. Other promotions for this year’s event will include press releases, website promotions, posters and inclusion in a supplemental newsletter listing all the participating farms. The supplement will be distributed to all tourism information centers throughout the State of Maine and will be inserted in daily newspapers throughout the state prior to this event.

Again, please put Sunday, July 23rd on your calendar and plan to join us for the 28th Anniversary of Open Farm Day! We look forward to working with you on this exciting and worthwhile event. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry at (207) 287-7620 or samanthadothowardatmainedotgov  (samanthadothowardatmainedotgov)  .

May 032017
 

by Heather Retberg, Ag Committee Member

Here’s the latest on where we stand with the bills supported by the Maine State Grange this legislative session.

We are to the stage where even 5 letters to senators and representatives from individual Grange members in districts across the state could really help tip the balance in favor of community-based farms and our local food systems.  The votes on these bills will be close in both house and senate, but there are definitely senators and reps who will vote in favor IF they hear from constituents.  If they don’t, with 2, 000 bills before them and no direction on these two, they will likely vote against or simply on party lines.  The vote on both of these bills will likely come in the next 2 weeks.

I asked one of our members, Peter Nelson, to forward his simple and straightforward letter to his representative and senator on to you in case it could prove a helpful sample to others:

Given the very real and serious problem of food and water security throughout the State and the ongoing struggle of family farms to grow and supply food product locally, it is vital that these two bills become law. They are connected, and when combined it will empower local communities to better solve the problems of food production and distribution. There is a high percentage of school children in Maine that do not have enough money to buy a school lunch each day. Meanwhile, local farmers work their own land, poultry, and animals for little more than room and board in their own homes. Please vote to empower constituents to do whatever we can to efficiently link supply and demand. Our young children are our most valuable ‘ natural resource ‘. We urge the passage of each of these important bills.

LD 835, An Act To Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers

It allows persons preparing food in their own homes to sell directly to consumers or to offer homemade food at certain events without being licensed as food establishments. 

LD 725, An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food and Water Systems.

This bill authorizes municipal governments to regulate local food systems and requires the State to recognize such ordinances. 

Please contact your Senator and Representative and urge them to pass these two bills.

Respectfully submitted,

Peter Nelson, Steward, Halcyon Grange 345


UPDATE:

The work session was held last Wednesday on LD 725, An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food and Water Systems.

This bill authorizes municipal governments to regulate local food systems and requires the State to recognize such ordinances.  This is a food sovereignty bill to ensure that we can participate directly at town meeting to make decisions about how our food needs are met in our towns.

What proceeded after the work session was opened, however, was strange and frustrating.  The committee’s policy analyst wasn’t called upon to deliver her analysis of the public hearing. Rep. Hickman, a co-sponsor of the bill,  having been asked to return to the work session with answers to questions from the public hearing, wasn’t called upon.  The committee chair didn’t wait for the bill sponsor, Sen. Jackson, to arrive.  No work session happened. An amendment was immediately offered by Rep. Madigan to remove language that would recognize municipal authority to regulate the commercial transport of water beyond a municipality.  A vote was called. The State and Local Government Committee voted once to remove the water portion from the bill.  The Republican senate committee chair, Sen. Davis then closed the work session as if the committee had voted on the bill itself.  He took the vote to remove water from the bill as the committee vote on whether or not to recommend an ‘ought to pass’ vote from the committee.  As of Friday, the bill received a 7-4 majority ought to pass as amended vote from the committee, with two members absent who have so far declined to register a vote on the bill.  Once this bill has final language review by the committee, it will proceed first to the Senate and then to the House for a vote, likely in the next 2 weeks.

A split committee vote, and one that will likely be close along party lines makes the engagement of constituents necessary to help ensure the bill’s passage. The senators and representatives will be hearing from the industry and trade lobbyists as well as the commissioner of agriculture against this bill, although the legislature has already enacted a law that directs that the “state shall support policies that, through local control, preserve the abilities of communities to produce, process, sell, purchase and consume locally produced foods.” (Title 7-A, 201-A) They need to hear from all of us to counter that pressure from within!

LD 835, An Act To Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers received a 7 to 6 majority ought to pass vote from the Agriculture Committee on April 20. Republican committee chair Senator Davis voted against the bill, though Republican Senator Saviello voted in support. LD 835 would allow direct sales between Maine farmers and patrons. It allows persons preparing food in their own homes to sell directly to consumers or to offer homemade food at certain events without being licensed as food establishments. This bill received strong support from representatives of the 18 towns and one city in Maine that have passed food sovereignty ordinances and resolutions. The Department of Agriculture and many dairy industry representatives came out in force against this bill. Once this bill has final language review it will go to the House first for a vote, and then the Senate likely in the next couple weeks.

What to do NOW:  It will be very important for all of us to contact our senators (follow the link below to find your senator and representative)  asking them to support these bills allowing safe, local control of our local food system and traditional food exchanges.  Please contact your senators on LD 725 and your representatives, too.  This bill will go to the Senate first.

LD 835 will start in the house.  We’ll keep you as up to date as possible as we find out timelines for the votes.  It’s all getting awfully rushed now at this point in the session.

A complete list of senators with contact information has also been uploaded to the Agricultural Education Section of the “Program Books and Information Page.

The following Senators could be key decision-makers and would especially benefit from hearing personally from people who live or work in their districts:

Senator Joyce Maker representing Senate District 6: Addison, Alexander, Baileyville, Baring Plantation, Beals, Beddington, Calais, Centerville, Charlotte, Cherryfield, Codyville Plantation, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Cooper, Crawford, Cutler, Danforth, Deblois, Dennysville, East Central Washington, East Machias, Eastport, Gouldsboro, Grand Lake Stream Plantation, Harrington, Indian Township, Jonesboro, Jonesport, Lubec, Machias, Machiasport, Marshfield, Meddybemps, Milbridge, North Washington, Northfield, Pembroke, Perry, Pleasant Point, Princeton, Robbinston, Roque Bluffs, Steuben, Sullivan, Talmadge, Topsfield, Vanceboro, Waite, Wesley, Whiting, Whitneyville, Winter Harbor, and part of East Hancock Unorganized Territory.

Senator David Woodsome representing Senate District 33: Cornish, Limerick, Newfield, Parsonsfield, Sanford, Shapleigh, and Waterboro.

Senator Andre Cushing representing Senate District 10: Carmel, Corinna, Corinth, Dixmont, Etna, Exeter, Glenburn, Hampden, Hudson, Kenduskeag, Levant, Newburgh, Newport, Plymouth, and Stetson.

Senator Amy Volk representing Senate District 30: Gorham, part of Buxton, and part of Scarborough.

Senator Eric Brakey representing Senate District 20: Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester, and Poland

Senator Rodney Whittemore representing Senate District 3: Anson, Bingham, Canaan, Caratunk, Central Somerset Unorganized Territory, Cornville, Dennistown Plantation, Embden, Highland Plantation, Jackman, Madison, Mercer, Moose River, Moscow, New Portland, Norridgewock, Northeast Somerset Unorganized Territory (includes Rockwood Strip), Northwest Somerset Unorganized Territory, Pittsfield, Pleasant Ridge Plantation, Rome, Seboomook Lake Unorganized Territory, Skowhegan, Smithfield, Solon, Starks, The Forks Plantation and West Forks Plantation.

Senator Lisa Keim representing Senate District 18: Andover, Bethel, Buckfield, Byron, Canton, Dixfield, Gilead, Greenwood, Hanover, Hartford, Hebron, Lincoln Plantation, Livermore, Livermore Falls, Lovell, Magalloway Plantation, Mexico, Milton Twp., Newry, North Oxford Unorganized Territory, Peru, Roxbury, Rumford, South Oxford Unorganized Territory, Stoneham, Stow, Sumner, Sweden, Upton, Waterford, West Paris, and Woodstock.

Senator James Hamper representing Senate District 19: Bridgton, Brownfield, Denmark, Fryeburg, Harrison, Hiram, Naples, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Porter, and Sebago.

Senator Michael Carpenter representing Senate District 2: Amity, Bancroft, Blaine, Bridgewater, Carroll Plantation, Cary Plantation, Central Aroostook Unorganized Territory, Chapman, Crystal, Drew Plantation, Dyer Brook, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Glenwood Plantation, Hammond, Haynesville, Hersey, Hodgdon, Houlton, Island Falls, Kingman Township, Lakeville, Lee, Linneus, Littleton, Ludlow, Macwahoc Plantation, Mars Hill, Merrill, Monticello, Moro Plantation, Mount Chase, New Limerick, Oakfield, Orient, Patten, Prentiss Township, Presque Isle, Reed Plantation, Sherman, Smyrna, South Aroostook Unorganized Territory, Springfield, Stacyville, Twombly Ridge Township, Webster Plantation, Westfield, Weston,Whitney Township, Winn, and part of North Penobscot Unorganized Territory.

Senator Eloise Vitelli representing Senate District 23: Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Woolwich and the unorganized township of Perkins.

Senator Susan Deschambault representing Senate District 32: Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport, and Lyman

Senator Catherine Breen representing Senate District 25: Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth, and part of Westbrook.

Senator Saviello representing Senate District 17: Avon, Belgrade, Carrabassett Valley, Carthage, Chesterville, Coplin Plantation, Dallas Plantation, East Central Franklin, Eustis, Farmington, Fayette, Industry, Jay, Kingfield, Mount Vernon, New Sharon, New Vineyard, North Franklin, Phillips, Rangeley, Rangeley Plantation, Sandy River Plantation, Strong, Temple, Vienna, Weld, West Central Franklin, and Wilton.

Apr 192017
 

Webmaster’s Note:  The following article is reprinted with permission from an e-newsletter published by Paul Stearns, State Representative for District 119, reprinted with permission. 


Business Answers, a program of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, exists to assist new and prevailing businesses with start-up and expansion.  In conjunction with the online service, there is also a toll-free 800-line which you can call and get answers to all of your questions, including:

  • starting and operating a business;
  • State licensing requirements;
  • your business name;
  • becoming an employer;
  • being self-employed; and
  • so much more!

If the answer to your business question is immediately unknown, you will be referred to someone who can better help.  Through Business Answer’s One-Stop Business Licensing Center, information is available with respect to all of the State licenses your business is required to have.  Governor’s Account Executives are available to help with problems and concerns that arise as you work with other State agencies.

Questions about this service?  Please contact Business Answers toll-free telephone system at 1-800-872-3838 in Maine or 1-800-541-5872 outside Maine.  You also have the option of communicating via e-mail at businessdotanswersatmainedotgov  (businessdotanswersatmainedotgov)  .

Apr 142017
 

karen-gagne-webBy Karen Hatch Gagne, Director

March was a challenging month as winter was clearly still here in Maine.  The snow is finally melting and we have had some delightfully warm weather these past few days.  Time to be getting ready for gardens (I still have snow on my garden though).  The Agricultural Committee was busy gathering Maine-made items for our scholarship basket and preparing for the agricultural luncheon for the State Legislators.  Special thanks to Agnes and Bob for heading up the food preparation, Sharon and Jim for purchasing what was not donated.  A special thank you to those who donated food for this annual event: UMaine/High Moor Farms donated apples; Maine Blueberry Commission donated placemats, magnets and Wyman’s blueberries; and the True North Salmon Company donated the salmon.

Thank you to all state officers and directors who made and delivered fudge for our statehouse table and pies for the agricultural luncheon.  A special thanks to Chef Heidi Parent, Director of the Culinary Arts Department for the Capital Area Technical Center and her students from the culinary program as they prepared all the salmon for lunch.

Currently, I am completing a score sheet for State Grange Educational Exhibits and will be contacting Grange members who have been willing to judge our Grange Exhibits at our Maine Agriculture Fairs.  The Agricultural Committee will be judging Agricultural Scholarships next month and gearing up for High School graduation and celebrating our scholarship recipients.

The Maine Agricultural Fair Season will be upon us soon, I encourage our Granges to plan to set up one Grange Exhibit at your local Agricultural Fair.  Let’s make our presence visible in our communities.  If you are unsure how to make the connection with your local fair you can look online or call me and I am very willing to assist you through this process.

The Agricultural Committee is also working on providing an agricultural luncheon and speaker during our State Grange Convention in October.  There will be more to come in the near future.

I welcome any questions or suggestions!  Call me at 207-592-6980, email Karendothdotgagneatmainedotedu  (Karendothdotgagneatmainedotedu)   or text me.

Apr 132017
 

HeatherBy Heather Retberg

This week, Zander and I headed out into the world beyond the farm, to the realms of college visits and highway travel. We left the pine tree state, still frozen and cold, and found much of the same next door in the granite state, but snowdrops peeked up out of the ground in New Hampshire, where snow pack was still deep in places and winter holding on tightly. Then we went up, up, up into the Green Mountains, still covered by snow and blowing and sleeting as we drove up and over. As we came down out of the mountains, we were in a land where spring had really begun–the grass was green, some farms had cows out on the pasture again, the waters were open and rivers running hard, though the air was still cold.  We left those mountains yesterday afternoon, holding so much information about college programs, student life, possibility, and potential. We held it as we drove, and gathered still more to hold–mountains of skeletal trees and white snows, rushing waters of winter letting go, red, painted covered bridges. There was so much to take in over such a short amount of time.

What a joyful surprise we had on arrival back at the farm so close to midnight on (another) birthday eve, to see that our small farm pond was released from ice and snow. There was a small choral group nearby–woodcocks chittering and peenting, too, but also a sound that seemed most congenial. The conversations of spring have begun. Carolyn reports that today’s sunshine brought out the daffodils around the farm. After holding and holding, listening, engaging, and…preparing, arriving home to this beautiful release was a welcome thing. Birdsong in the morning is becoming normal again, an eagle and two eaglets have taken to flying (practice?) over the farm, the kildeer returned this week, and a pair of woodcocks bobbled about under the maple trees, grubbing. Life returns.

Thoughts of life and water and food advocacy merge together as the public hearing on LD 725 An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food and Water Systems, takes place tomorrow morning in Augusta.  I’ve included our fact sheet on the bill.* If any of you would still like to submit written testimony and are looking for more info, please do. You can borrow freely from the paragraphs provided to help answer three essential questions for legislators: what does LD 725 do, why is it necessary and why is it beneficial.

Thankfully, for all of us, while Zander and I went college visiting, Phil made fresh batches of vanilla Greek yogurt, plain Greek yogurt, and Farmstead cheese.

Today, we celebrated Zander’s birthday and pulled out the ‘Best Birthday Cheesecake’ recipe again. What a silky, delicious use of eggs, yogurt, and cheese. Then, just because gilding the lily is somebirthdaytimes a nice thing to do, we topped the best cheesecake with Ruth & Nicolas’ blueberries and white chocolate curls. A good start to #19 and, a boost for some of his first big decisions to come.

*Webmaster’s Note: You may view the 2015 Maine State Grange Resolution and 2016 Maine State Grange Resolution that relate to these issues by clicking the links or visiting the Program Books and Information Page. There is also a “Fact Sheet” regarding LD 725–in the new “Agriculture Education” section of the page!

###

Heather and Phil Retberg together with their three children run Quill’s End Farm, a 105-acre property in Penobscot that they bought in 2004. They use rotational grazing on their fifteen open acres and are renovating thirty more acres from woods to pasture to increase grazing for their pigs, grass-fed cattle, lambs, laying hens, and goats. Heather is Master of Halcyon Grange #345 and writes a newsletter for their farm’s buying clubs for farmers in her area and has generously given us permission to share some of her columns with Grangers throughout the state.


Grange members are invited to submit guest columns to Views from the Farm for consideration by emailing the webmaster. Please note that the views and opinions expressed in contributed articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Grange.

Apr 042017
 

Public Hearings have been scheduled for two bills supported by Maine State Grange Resolutions passed in 2015 and 2016:

The public hearing for LD 725 will be on April 10, Monday, at 10 am in Room 214 of the Cross Office Building (right across from state house). LD 725 is An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food and Water Systems.

The public hearing for LD 835 An Act to Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers will be the same week on April 13th, Thursday, at 1 pm also in Room 214 of Cross Office Building.

Grangers who would like their voices heard are encouraged to attend these hearings and offer testimony! For additional information and assistance, you may contact Heather Retberg  (quillsendfarmatgmaildotcom)  , Master of Halcyon Grange.

Apr 042017
 

Webmaster’s Note:  The following article is reprinted with permission from an e-newsletter published by Paul Stearns, State Representative for District 119, reprinted with permission. 

The Maine Senior FarmShare Program entitles eligible seniors to receive a FarmShare, $50 worth, of first-quality, fresh local produce from a Maine farm for a core eight-week period during the growing season.  Seniors sign up directly with a participating farmer each year in April.

Different farms participating in the Senior FarmShare Program offer different types of fruits and vegetables.  You should check with the farmer before signing up to be sure a farm’s offerings will meet your needs.  The fruits and vegetables will be available at different times during the growing season.

To learn more about this Program, please click here.  If you are uncertain about your eligibility to participate, you should contact your Area Agency on Aging by calling the ELDERS-1 toll-free number at 1-877-353-3771.

Mar 252017
 

We shook it and it’s changing to butter!

In something of a perfect storm, Valley Grangers are experiencing a bit of March Madness with two major community service projects involving local students and community volunteers. First up was their annual GrowME Collaboration–a joint effort with Piscataquis County UMaine Extension and Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District. By pooling resources and volunteers, the three organizations are visiting with nearly 750 students from Kindergarten through Third Grade in Piscataquis County. With a mission of “increasing agricultural literacy and making it fun,” volunteers help kindergartners build an animal graph, first graders taste and sort apples, second graders make their own butter, and third graders construct their very own “dirt babies.”

Walter Boomsma, program director for Valley Grange is especially proud of the fact that “we have no budget and not much structure–just a bunch of people who love working with kids and providing positive experiences around agriculture.” His specialty is making butter with second graders. “We have fun and the kids almost don’t realize they are learning–some have even asked for instructions and then made butter at home as a family activity.” He notes that teachers are often integrating the activities into their regular curriculum by using the experience as a writing prompt or a math lesson. But he maintains that the best part is everyone has fun. “Every year there are new stories to tell,” he notes.

Third graders make dirt babies that grow sprout and grow “hair” (grass). The babies include a birth certificate that tracks important events such as “first haircut.” In one classroom this year, as the babies were being collected and placed on a windowsill, one new “parent” exclaimed, “Uh oh! My Dirt Baby had an accident! She pooped and peed on my desk!” (There was some water and soil on the desk after the assembly was completed.) Perhaps in addition to “agricultural literacy” the GrowME program is teaching the joys of parenthood!

Boomsma notes that one school has requested an activity for their Pre-Kindergarten classes this year. “Finding activities that are grade level appropriate can be a challenge because we also have to make certain our volunteers are comfortable with it. This year I’ve agreed to be the guinea pig volunteer for this new activity and we’re trying a project involving sprouting bean seeds so the kids not only help with the planting, they get to watch the sprouting take place.”

Another initiative Valley Grange has supported long enough that it’s a school tradition is a contest among third and fourth graders to design two advertisements for the Grange in the Piscataquis Observer’s Annual Newspapers in Education Supplement. The program is a favorite of Piscataquis Community Elementary School Art Teacher Jane Daniels because it “gives the kids a practical side of art.” Valley Grange Master Jim Annis notes that “We have strong ties to kids…” with Grange members involved regularly at the local schools. “We’ve actually built a series of programs that range from Bookworming and Words for Thirds to our blistered finger knitters making hats and mittens for the kids who need them. The kids know us and we know them.”

Valley Grange Community Service Chair Mary Annis is quick to note that this is not a one-way street. “In addition to the fun we have, the kids help us. We collect  ‘Coups for Troops’ most of which came from collection boxes placed in local schools. We like the feeling that we are redefining community and good ways of working together.”

Additional information about all of the Valley Grange Programs can be found on their website, http://valleygrange.com. The GrowME Collaboration maintains a basic information and resource site at http://growmehelp.wordpress.com. If any other Granges are interested in starting similar programs, Valley Grange will be happy to help!

Ad created by Fourth Grader Kaelyn Bussell