The Groton High School chapter of FFA (Future Farmers of America) was an integral part of the school’s culture, dating back to the 1950s, but when its advisor, shop teacher Harold Scheffler, retired in 1972, the Groton FFA essentially retired along with him.Fast-forward to Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 – 47 years later – when the Groton FFA chapter was newly chartered and poised to “rise from the ashes” with its new advisor, Dr. Jason Oliver, GHS’ Agriculture Program teacher.
New York State Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball, who presented the official charter; Sen. James Seward; NY FFA Director; Derek Hill; and a full slate of officers from the New York State FFA chapter were all a part of the 72 individuals who attended this special event to help celebrate this exciting day in Groton FFA history.
The afternoon began with a casual reception in GHS’ new state-of-the-art STEAM Learning Center. Abby Thomas of Lansing, who is one of four Tompkins County dairy ambassadors, was on hand serving milk punch as attendees toured through the STEAM facility. The reception was followed by a barbeque chicken lunch in the cafeteria.
As the last of the fresh peach cobbler made by GCS’ food service director, Kelly Neville, was being consumed, it quickly became apparent that the contingency of blue-jacketed NYS FFA officers were not just there for the event but were in fact the presiding officers for what turned out to be the first official meeting of our Groton FFA chapter.
The NYS chapter’s president, Peyton Fontaine from Pioneer Central School in western New York, skillfully conducted the meeting, along with assistance from his fellow officers from around the state.
Fontaine later said he considers getting to charter new chapters is an amazing opportunity and this one was special to him as his first one.
Groton farm owner, Dan Carey, of Carey Farm on Lick Street, who is the chairman of the agriculture advisory board that was instrumental in spearheading the FFA reformation in Groton, had attended an annual meeting of the Tompkins County Farm Bureau in November 2016, from which he came away with a passion to see agricultural education in Groton again.
Carey contacted Derek Hill, the NYS FFA director, who also happens to reside in Groton, and Sallee Teneyck of Summer Hill Brewery.
Together, the three went about organizing the Groton Agriculture Advisory Board, adding other local farmers and agricultural industry folks to their ranks. By May 2018, the board had created a charter and by-laws.
They approached Groton Central School superintendent, Margo Martin, and then-high school principal, Billie Downs, about their hopes and aspirations for FFA and for getting agricultural education back in the school.
“Margo was on board from the very beginning, which made our job so much easier,” Carey said.
With the support of Martin and Downs, and the enthusiastic approval from the Groton Board of Education, they saw GHS’s first agriculture class taught in the fall of 2018.
Superintendent Margo Martin spoke next, giving her thanks to the agriculture advisory board and her accolades for Oliver, who has
been the agriculture teacher since the beginning of this year. “The forming of the FFA chapter is a demonstration of what can happen when a school and community work together on an initiative that is important to so many,” Martin said.
Commissioner Ball delivered inspirational remarks, citing that only 1% of our population farms today but that all the careers in the food system combined are the largest source of employment in our country.
Seward, who is known as a great proponent of agriculture, and a good friend to Groton in many ways, adjusted his schedule to attend this event, and his excitement was palpable.
“This is a big step forward for Groton,” he said.Seward was instrumental in procuring some funding for the STEAM Learning Center and had not had an opportunity to see it since it was in the throes of construction quite some time ago.
“It was so exciting to see the STEAM lab completed and to celebrate the new FFA chapter,” he said. “Agriculture has a great past, present and future and is critically important to us all. It is just great to see youth involvement because that is what is critical for the future.”
Oliver spoke about his journey to arrival as GHS’s agriculture teacher. He said he wants students to have the skills they need for success and to find value in revitalizing agriculture in Groton.
Students John Banford, Brynn Blasz, Deidre Brame, Ethan Butts, Emily Cargian, Lucas Darling, Braedy Dilger, Destiny Dunn, Abigail Dykeman, Courtney Felko, Kyle Gombas, Rachel Houston, Robert Houston, Austin Jacobs, Kennedy Mayo, Alyssa Nicholson, Madalyn Perkins, Martina Seamans, Noah Thompson, Travis Totman, Kaitlyn Williams and Molly Wolchetsky are each recorded as charter members of this Groton chapter of the FFA.
“I want to be in FFA because my grandfather did it, and I want to help Groton grow as a community and stand out from others,” Blasz said.
Cargian expressed a similar sentiment.
“Not many people know about farming and agriculture, so I’m hoping to spread the word that it’s more than cows and horses,” Cargian said.
I asked Hill how he felt about the day.
“I’m humbled and proud of the work the advisory board has done to bring ag education and FFA back to Groton,” he said. “I think it’s going to provide new opportunities for our students and help develop leaders in our community.”
Oliver’s story, as well as a more in-depth look at the ag program that will launch at GHS this fall, requires coming back to the Aug. 14 edition of this column to read about it.
Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-227-4922. In brief: Go Mad Service Camp St. Anthony’s Church is sponsoring “Go Mad Summer Service Camp,” 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, Monday, Aug. 12 through Wednesday, Aug. 14. All young people entering grades seven through 12 are invited to make a difference in our community by helping those in need through this summer service camp.
This camp gives participants the chance to take time out of their busy schedules to lend a helping hand to others in the world, from painting walls to hammering nails to playing with children to planting flower beds.
Each of the three mornings begin at 8:30 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Church in Groton. Small groups will then venture out to work on various projects in our area. Later each day, groups will gather together to share experiences, play some games and reflect and go home at 8 p.m. All young people are invited; you don’t need to be Catholic to attend.
Registration forms and more information can be found at netcatholic.org/service-camp Fun at the library Free healthy food, supplied by the Friendship Donation Network, is dropped off at the Groton Public Library every Tuesday at 6 p.m. It is free and available to all – first come, first served. The free monthly healthy community meal, with seasonally appropriate produce, is offered once per month. It will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, and all are welcome to attend.
Certified instructor Aniiyah Klock will lead a free adult wellness class on learning to wildcraft, Wednesday, Aug. 21 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The class will do a weed walk at Roberts Family Tree Farm, discovering what grows in our own backyard.
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