In something of a perfect storm, Valley Grangers experienced a bit of March Madness recently with two major community service projects involving local students. 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 this year visited with over 500 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.” 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.”
Another initiative the 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 recently collected twelve pounds of ‘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.