Hey, everyone! This is Meridith Murley, and I’m serving in Alcona Community Schools in Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Pathways to Employment AmeriCorps VISTA program. My role in Alcona focuses on promoting post-secondary access and success, primarily through the creation of student support programs and activities. I’m also working with local organizations to bring expanded educational opportunities to local farmers and business owners. As we’re heading into spring (fingers crossed there will be no more snow!!), I’m reminded of all of the natural resources that a rural county like Alcona has to offer. So, I thought that I’d share a bit about some of the organizations that my co-VISTA, Marisa Tear, and I have had the opportunity to work with this year.
One of the coolest ways that I’ve been able to get involved in Alcona County has been through the organization Farm to Fork Alcona. This group works to bring local farmers back into the area by increasing access to local food and offering educational opportunities for owners of small farms in the area. Because northeastern Michigan is primarily rural, there are huge areas of farmable land for sale at reasonable prices, but there are few young people in the area with the knowledge and resources to put it to use. Farm to Fork is working to solve this problem by offering support and education to young people interested in pursuing agricultural science, particularly on a post-secondary level. Marisa and I helped Farm to Fork put on their second annual Northeastern Michigan Small Farm Conference this year, where approximately 100 local(ish) farmers attended a one and a half day conference centered around maintaining profitability of family farms. Five of Alcona’s Future Famers of America (FFA) students received a scholarship for the conference and were able to attend and learn about everything from hops to hoop houses. It was pretty amazing to watch multiple generations of farmers (and potential farmers) share their knowledge of and experience with farming in northern Michigan.
Farm to Fork was also a sponsor of the FFA’s annual Maple Syrup Celebration, where almost 500 people from across the county came to enjoy maple syrup tapped from trees in Alcona County. FFA students were in charge of the entire event. They cooked and served a full pancake breakfast, gave demonstrations on the syrup-making process, and sold their own maple syrup to raise funds for scholarships and trips to their competition. Being able to see kids that are so knowledgable and passionate about being good stewards of the land was inspiring to say the least, and the maple syrup was top-notch.
I never thought of myself as a person that was particularly interested in farming, or even rural areas, before I joined AmeriCorps. But, working with Farm to Fork and other local organizations has been eye-opening. It’s an experience that I’m incredibly grateful for. The people that I’ve met and worked with here have been welcoming, supportive, and committed to bettering their community. Before starting my service I didn’t know a single person in Alcona County, and now I can say that I serve among friends.