Sunday, 23 September 2012

Student-led agriculture fair offers glimpse of community’s farming roots

BELLEVILLE — Pedaling with all his might in a miniature John Deere tractor loaded with cement blocks, Addison L. Zumbach, 5, received a round of applause as he crossed the finish line Saturday in the parking lot at Belleville Henderson Central School.

Organized by high school students in the FFA, the tractor pull for children is one of the traditions at the school’s longstanding annual Community Agriculture Fair. Looking on, Addison’s father, Brian L., said he was in high school when the competition was introduced at the fair in the 1990s.

“It started when I was too old to do it, because I remember watching my friends’ younger brothers and sisters compete,” the 1997 alumnus said. “The fair is great family fun and gives people a chance to learn about the farming community around here.”

Ninety students in the FFA club from grades nine through 12 spent several weeks preparing for the show, which kicked off Friday evening with a harvest parade featuring tractors and floats. Students from each grade hosted different activities to raise funds for their classes, including a pie throw, cake wheel and raffles. Other students participated in agriculture competitions that featured everything from rabbits and chickens to vegetables, eggs and artwork. All participants’ entries were tagged with blue and red prize ribbons rewarding their efforts.

High school agriculture teacher Tedra J. McDougal, who organized the show for her second year, said her mission is to get every student involved. Surrounded by farmland, the school takes its identity from its agriculture program, she said.

“The community here is largely centered around agriculture,” she said, adding that a good portion of students pursue careers in the industry. While most people tend to associate dairy farmers with agriculture, she said, “only one-fifth of the careers in agriculture are in production.” Careers in education, research, technology and other sectors give students a broad career menu.

Upper-class officers in the club organized the fair by recruiting vendors, sending out newsletters and setting up displays. Several of them plan to pursue college degrees in the agriculture field after discovering their interests during their years in the club. Senior Nicole E. Race, who as the reporter for the club creates newsletters, said she plans to pursue a career in environmental science. She is especially interested in agronomy — the study of plants, pests and farming technology that affect farms.

Miss Race and three other members of the school’s agronomy club competed in the Eastern States Exposition last weekend in West Springfield, Mass. After claiming first prize in the competition there, the club is moving on to a national FFA competition, representing New York in Indianapolis in October.

“Our goal has always been to make nationals,” she said with a big smile, explaining that the team just fell shy in the past three years. “I’ve gotten to know all of the plants and compete in environmental science competitions every year.”

Sophomore Danielle H. Simmons, who was appointed the dairy ambassador of the club this fall, will visit local schools to talk to young students about the history and importance of the dairy industry in Jefferson County.

“I’m going to talk to kids about what dairy products are healthy and how milk is produced,” she said.

Mingling with visitors to sell their products, about 30 local vendors joined students to fill the gymnasium at the fair. Rachel J. Zumbach, who was selling soap made from goat milk, said it was her second year with a booth at the fair. She said the soap, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, is produced using milk from 30 goats at her farm at 1085 Route 178, Adams.

“It’s healthier for the human skin than commercial soap you buy in stores,” she said.
Original Article Here

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