Pilot programs in agriculture, plumbing coming to Foster Tech

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FARMINGTON — This fall, a few students at the Foster Technology Center will be learning the basics of plumbing and farming.

Two pilot programs, each based on public-private collaborations at no cost to taxpayers, will be launched. They were approved unanimously by the Mt. Blue Regional School District Board of Directors on Tuesday.

In a presentation on the agriculture technology program, Pamela Harnden of Wilton, who holds several leadership roles on agricultural boards in the county and in the state, said there is a vital need for more young people to go into agriculture.

“By 2050, food production in the world will have to double to feed the world,” she told the board.

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She cited the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 Census of Agriculture that shows in Franklin County between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms increased by 22 percent and the market value of products here increased by 41 percent.

Also, there was a 25 percent increase in the 25- to 34-year-old bracket of local farmers at a time when the average age of farmers increased from 53 in 2002 to 57 in 2007.

“We have a lot of farmers here who are excited about this program,” she said.

Glenn Kapiloff, Foster Tech’s director, said the program would be based on rotating internships at area farms. Students would be supervised by the instructor from the Mt. Blue High School chapter of Jobs for Maine Graduates, who is already an employee.

Suggested internships could be in greenhouse production, yogurt and cheese making, maple syrup production, genetics and breeding, and farm management.

Students could also be responsible for classroom work, Kapiloff said. The curriculum will be developed according to national standards and would be offered through existing programs such as forestry, in which students would become certified in tractor safety, and biotechnology, where they would learn about cloning, genetics and animal health.

A large greenhouse will be part of the new Mt. Blue Learning Campus, set to be completed in 2013, that could be used as a learning laboratory, Kapiloff said.

The idea for the new program came from a group of farmers and agriculture advocates on the Franklin County Agriculture Task Force. Jo Josephson, a member of the task force, wrote a report on agriculture in Franklin County and told the board innovative agricultural practices are being tried here and farms are being run by creative businesspeople.

Ventures include cutting-edge genetic beef breeding, hydroponic vegetable gardening and a new cooperative dairy creamery.

“These students will have incredible mentors and role models,” she said.

The funding would be tapped from the federal Carl D. Perkins grant program that is used to provide vocational and technical education programs.

The plumbing program would be a satellite class at Ranor Inc., a plumbing and heating contracting firm in Jay that has been offering a similar program for the past three years to students from Jay and Livermore Falls high schools.

The firm will continue to provide the program when it expands in the fall to include students from other high schools in the county, said Ranor’s Tim Madden.

Board member Iris Silverstein of Wilton said the district has a new budget that made significant cuts in programs.

“These are excellent programs, but what are our priorities?” she asked.

Board member Mark Prentiss said the plumbing program had been planned for three years to be included in the new school and there is already a classroom designated.

bjespersen@beeline-online.net

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