High school students feeding Massachusetts agriculture industries
BOSTON >> Matt LeClerc lived 75 miles from his Templeton home in the 1980s while attending Norfolk County Agricultural School in Walpole.
On Tuesday, the 45-year-old who runs his family's 80-acre Valley View Farm in Templeton pointed through a crowd of current agricultural school students at a particular woman and somewhat loudly told the New Service, "She was the reason I went to college." The woman, 30-year Norfolk Agricultural School Superintendent Suzanne Green, caught LeClerc's eye and they quickly greeted one another and shared a hug.
Leclerc said that while in high school, he thought he'd end up as a laborer, but said Green told him he was "too smart" and "better than that" and made him take his SATs before he graduated in 1989.
Green attended the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. After graduating with a degree in livestock production, he worked as a meat science lab instructor at the college for 11 years and then returned to Templeton where he raises livestock and is a full-time butcher.
The students joined farmers, agricultural organizations, and state officials to celebrate the annual Agriculture Day, including "Taste of Massachusetts" exhibits featuring tasty home-grown food items.
"This is one of the few days when you walk into the State House and it just smells great, from one end to the other, and that's because there's so much product and hard work and sweat on display across this building," Gov. Charlie Baker said during brief remarks to participants.
The school in Walpole is one of four public agricultural high schools and officials said all four have wait lists. The others are Essex Technical High School in Hamilton, Bristol County Agricultural High School in Dighton and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton.
The Norfolk "Aggie" is marking its 100-year anniversary in 2016, according to Green, who noted the school's 300-acre campus was originally located in the geographic center of the county to guard against lengthy commutes for students who traveled to school by horseback.
In an interview, 27-year Norfolk County Agricultural School Principal Tammy Quinn said 80 percent of the school's graduates go on to college or trade schools and pursue careers as veterinarians, marine biologists, arborists, mechanics or in landscape, golf course management or "farm to table" industries.
Students who wish to attend Norfolk must apply and the school has students from 70 communities, said Quinn, noting 100 students were on wait lists after 140 freshman were recently accepted.
Quinn, who grew up in Roslindale, started working at the school as a substitute teacher, then worked as a math teacher for 20 years before becoming principal. She will take over as superintendent in July.
Joining their counterparts from the other public agricultural schools, Green and Quinn brought about 40 students with them to the State House.
Brad Mitchell, legislative director at the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, briefed the students on key bills, including one affecting taxes paid on farms (H 3507) - Mitchell said some farm owners are "land rich, but cash poor" - and an omnibus agriculture bill (S 2171).
Dedham Rep. Paul McMurtry said the school in Walpole helps Massachusetts meet its skilled labor needs. "High demand," he said, pointing to the students grouped on the Grand Staircase for a photo. "High academic standards and just great all-around students."
"It's truly a jewel," said Stoughton Rep. Louis Kafka. "It's one of the county's best kept secrets."
Baker said many Massachusetts businesses in the agricultural industry have been passed down through the generations. "This is a community and an industry that's been with us since the very, very, very beginning and will always be part of the fabric of Massachusetts," Baker said.
The governor said he is amazed that despite Massachusetts' relatively small population and size, it has 7,000 farms and "we are a top five player in terms of the amount of product that's sold from farm directly to consumer. We have always been a national leader in sort of grow local, buy local, support local."
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