It's Not All Sappy: Teachers Can Be Leaders in Agricultural Industry Networks

By Schiebel, Keith; Park, Travis | The Agricultural Education Magazine, January/February 2010 | Go to article overview

It's Not All Sappy: Teachers Can Be Leaders in Agricultural Industry Networks


Schiebel, Keith, Park, Travis, The Agricultural Education Magazine


Sometimes what we do in working with agricultural youth may seem to be less relevant to the total agriculture industry than other pressing agricultural issues like biofuel development, milk pricing, or biotechnology. Yet, as agricultural educators we help ensure the future workforce and leadership for the agriculture industry. In numerous venues the shortages of agriculture professionals with relevant agricultural experiences have been duly noted. As teachers and agriculture educators develop professional relationships in our communities, we have a real opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the food and fiber sector. Some secondary agricultural educators take this responsibility seriously and even lead in agriculture industries. That is certainly true of Keith Schiebel, the agricultural science teacher at Vernon- VeronaSherrill (VVS) High School in New York, who has developed professional networks that benefit both his students, reaching far beyond his classroom walls, and the $5 million maple industry in New York State.

While Keith has developed professional networks with other agricultural educators, his niche is the connections made with maple producers across the state and nation, and even across the hemisphere. The WS agriculture program currently owns and operates a 2000-tap maple operation including a school-based woodlot and maple sap house. WS started tapping trees in 1989 and began boiling on campus in 1992. The program purchases and processes additional sap from local land-owners. They also support a school-based commercial sales outlet, wholesale to several outlets in the surrounding community, and attend major craft shows to market maple syrup and associated products. Keith's students are currently inventorying the maple tree resources within a 1 0-mile radius of the school (including parks and cemeteries with significant maple resources - Keith doesn't even think it a little weird to harvest sap from a cemetery and says, "Nobody'd complain.") and plans to build a community-based maple cooperative around the maple industry.

VVS also educates the local public about maple by sponsoring two Maple Weekends at the end of March each year which draw over 2,000 attendees. The weekend includes a pancake breakfast, wagon rides to the sugarbush, sap house tours, maple market open house, maple coloring contests for kids, and tree-tapping ceremony featuring state and local dignitaries. For the past 10 years, the NYS Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets has tapped a maple tree on the school's front lawn as part of the Maple Weekend celebration.

Another method of providing agriculture literacy about the maple industry has been the development of a WS FFA Mobile Maple Exhibit. Pulled by the agriculture program's pickup, stickered like a NASCAR® racecar, the 28-foot, handicapped accessible trailer depicts the maple industry through interactive displays and activities and is staffed by students who conduct presentations for various school groups and events. The depictions cover the history of maple, plant physiology of sap, tapping and gathering methods, and even processing techniques through a mini-evaporator display. The Mobile Maple Exhibit and WS FFA members have made four different trips to New York City to educate youth and adults about the maple industry. In recent years the exhibit has been hosted by several state senators and assembly members. Senator Andrew Lanza (RSouth Shore), stated, "Your student volunteers were very knowledgeable and courteous and you should be honored as their teacher. You clearly have a passion and dedication for the education of maple syrup production that cannot be matched."

Where there is understanding, so also is there potential for action. United States Senator Schumer and Representative John McHugh have introduced the Maple Tapping Access Program Act (Maple TAP Act). The Act, if passed, would provide grants for landowners to develop their maple tree resources.

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It's Not All Sappy: Teachers Can Be Leaders in Agricultural Industry Networks
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