Future Farmers of America chapter at Mount Everett expands, grows


SHEFFIELD >> In dress pants, skirts and signature Navy blue corduroy jackets bearing their organization's gold insignia, the members of the Future Farmers of America hardly look like the overall and boot-wearing stereotype.

But don't get them wrong; they're more than willing — and quite likely — to roll their jacket sleeves up and get their hands dirty, whether it's raising livestock or raising issues on agricultural policies.

Founded by a group of young farmers in 1928, the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Organization provides agricultural education resources and opportunities to promote leadership, personal growth and career training for its 610,240 student members in Grades 7 through 12, who belong to one of 7,665 local FFA chapters throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Fresh off of celebrating the National FFA Week — including Friday's visit from state and national officers — the 24 members of the FFA chapter of Mount Everett Regional High School are currently building momentum for things to come.

Though agricultural courses have long been offered at Mount Everett, the school didn't establish its charter until 2009.

"I think this year people finally realize how much we've grown and that we're doing great things at the state and national level," said junior Bria Wells, vice president of the school's FFA chapter.

Last May, the Mount Everett FFA horse judging team won the state competition. Back in October, three teachers and 12 students boarded a school bus and headed to the 87th National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky. There, the Mount Everett team of Bria Wells, Malik Hogan, Anica Pond and Mia Bills earned bronze.

Hands-on learning

This academic year, the school's agricultural program and FFA chapter has expanded its membership, outreach and stock of livestock.

Back in November, Hogan, Mount Everett math teacher Dallas Jones and biology and agricultural teacher Danielle Melino rescued two miniature horses, Stella, who now lives at Hogan's farm, and Shelby, who is living at the school's farm.

This past fall, students in the school's agricultural and culinary classes worked on a cross-curricular "Pasture to Table" project, through which the students raised 30 domesticated broiler chickens at the school. The chickens were recently processed and sold as part of a Valentine's Day fundraiser. The FFA students are currently raising more funding to replace and expand fencing for the school barn.

New chicks will be purchased and raised this spring through additional grant funds from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The students hope to sell those birds to local restaurants and butchers, as part of their continued education in responsible agriculture, nutrition, consumer practices, community and sustainability.

Also on Valentine's Day, the school farm welcomed two sets of twin Shropshire lambs to a flock that was begun last year, with support from the Southern Berkshire Regional School District's Janet's Fund and Eagle Fund. Another set of twins followed a few days later, during the February school break.

On Friday, the visiting national and state officers borrowed muck boots and hiked across the campus field to the school barn to meet the new lambs, as well as the ewes and alpacas. Kept separate from the flock, the agriculture program was also able to purchase a ram.

A 'model' program

National FFA Southern Region Vice President Stephen McBride of Tennessee said he was impressed by the school's program, resources and creativity.

"It's good to see the work and the students here," he said.

Each year, the National FFA Organization sends six officers and a team of state and national delegates to visit six states and their respective chapters.

Mount Everett was the last stop on a trip to see 14 of the 16 Massachusetts FFA chapters. Collectively, they enroll about 1,950 members.

Massachusetts FFA adviser Kim LaFleur described Mount Everett's agricultural and FFA program as "a model" for the state in offering agricultural education despite not being a career or vocational-technical school.

"It speaks to the creativity of the teachers and administration here that they're able to reinforce science instruction through agriculture in different ways."

Massachusetts 2014-15 FFA President Thomas Malone, of Cape Cod, said he was also impressed to see the range of student farming happening across the commonwealth.

"We're used to mostly working with grasses and cranberry bogs on the Cape, but out here you see more work with livestock. It's pretty neat," he said.

Over the next few weeks, Mount Everett FFA student will prepare for two big events: the March 13 Massachusetts FFA Veterinary Science Competition, and the state FFA Convention, which will be held March 16 through 18. This year's state FFA Horse Judging Competition will be held on April 30.

For Mount Everett agricultural program information and updates, visit: https://mrsmelino.wordpress.com.

Contact reporter Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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