Blue Ribbon Valley Grange!

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Bob Carroll’s eye for precision gets applied to the staves during set up

Valley Grange walked away (well, some of us shuffled… it was a lot of work taking the booth apart) with the first place ribbon for our booth display at this year’s Piscataquis Valley Fair! We’d already agreed it was our best booth in recent years and are glad the judges agreed! The booth followed the theme of “Field to Feast” and included step by step instructions and materials for preserving the harvest.  Our judging guidelines also call for us to tell as much of the “Grange Story” as possible, including information and samples of our Community Service, Family Health and Hearing, and CWA work. Community Service Chair Mary Annis turned out an incredible poster with colorful pictures and descriptions of some of our projects.

While we all mutter and complain, we really do enjoy working together to build the booth every year on what usually turns out to be the hottest day we have in August. This year the crew included Mary and Jim Annis, Judy and Roger Ricker, Linda Erwin and Bob Carroll and Janice and Walter Boomsma. We can always count on Roger for some bad jokes and Judy is constantly sweeping… Mary and Janice do most of the preliminary work… and just about everybody gets a turn being sidewalk superintendent.

Congratulations to our closest (and only!) competitor, South Sangerville Grange for a well-deserved second place ribbon. Walter set up the Pomona Membership Booth again this year in an effort to assure fair-goers that the Grange is alive and thriving in the area. Unfortunately, Garland Grange was unable to compete this year, but we hope they’ll be back next year! Space in the Grange Exhibit Hall is always filled. This year we were joined by 4-Hers with their project work–they were great neighbors and added a lot of fun to the hall.

That blue ribbon looks great!

That blue ribbon looks great!

Eat and Learn with Extension

Saturday, September 7 Valley Grange hosts the UMaine Extension Piscataquis County Annual Supper and Meeting and it looks like there’s going to be something for everyone!

logo-piscataquis-santaAnother yummy supper is prepared by Penquis Volunteers and all proceeds will benefit Piscataquis Santa, served from 5 PM until 7 PM by donation to benefit Piscataquis Santa. The meal deal includes baked stuffed chicken, Angus beef tips, mashed potatoes with gravy, mac and cheese, glazed carrots and string beans, dinner rolls, fruit pie and vanilla ice cream, coffee, tea, and lemonade! Suggested donation is $8 for adults, $4 for kids 3-12, under 3 eat free! 100% of the proceeds benefit the Piscataquis Santa Fund! (There will only be 109 days until Christmas from this event!)

A LOGOThe program parts include lots of exciting things! Prior to and during supper there will be Extension exhibits and demonstrations including a working bee hive and opportunity for the kids to make “bee hummers,” information on gardening, farming and nutrition. Bring your gardening, farming, nutrition, 4-H questions! There will also be lots of material available… The annual meeting starting at 7 PM will feature highlights of local programming and a feature presentation by Dr. Lois Stack, UMaine Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist, “Native Plants in the Home Landscape.” All exhibits, demonstrations, and the program are free!

This is collaboration and cooperation at its best! You can come to one thing or you can come to everything!

Be a Farmer’s Friend!

By now there probably aren’t too many people in the area who haven’t heard about the tragic fire that basically destroyed Fred and Karen Cookson’s Historic Shaw Road Farm. There has been a genuine outpouring of community spirit and support.

The Grange’s roots are, of course, agricultural and our organization has often been referred to as a “friend of the farmer.” I am pleased to report that East Sangerville Grange is working on a fundraiser and members have been finding opportunities to help the Cooksons. The needs are great and we thank East Sangerville Grangers for moving forward and taking action. I hope we’ll have more to report on that front soon.

Unfortunately, there has been some “misinformation” developing that stems from well-intentioned efforts and ideas for how folks can help. There are many ways to help—and many have done just that! The simplest and most effective is to send or bring a donation to the Maine Highlands Credit Union where an account has been set up for Fred and Karen Cookson.

Let’s be friends of these farmers!

Volunteers Needed in Aroostook County…

Many hands needed for Maine Harvest for Hunger next Wednesday!

A very generous farmer in Houlton just notified the Penobscot County Extension office that he has thousands of pounds of peas and beans that he’s willing to donate to Maine Harvest for Hunger if volunteers are willing to come harvest. This is the first harvest of both crops – meaning it will be good pickin’!

Any time you can contribute would be much appreciated. The farmer estimated that an average picker would harvest approximately 15-twenty pounds an hour. Just think of the people you could help feed in just one hour!

If you are interested in helping out next Wednesday, August 1st (rain date the following day), please contact Kate Garland at the Penobscot County Extension office ( for details. Please provide your full name and phone number when you email and let Kate know your location if you are interested in carpooling.

Here’s a short video explaining the Harvest for Hunger Program:

Tell Kate you’re a Granger! Bless your pea pickin’ hands and heart!

GrowME Blog Established

The GrowMe collaboration now has a blog! Visit for all sorts of resources and information… Volunteers will find activity and volunteer guidelines. It’s a work in progress, so check back regularly–you can click through from here or visit the site directly. GrowME week starts Monday with volunteers working in Guilford and Dover Foxcroft! Don’t forget that everyone is invited to the Eggstravaganza at Valley Grange on Friday, March 16th. We’ll have a community potluck supper at 6 PM and a fun program at 7 that includes a virtual chicken! This is a family friendly event to celebrate our accomplishments–we’ll have worked in 34 classrooms with approximately 500 kids. We’ll also be appreciating agriculture and it’s role in our lives and communities. All are welcomed!

March Eggstravaganza!

Friday, March 16th Valley Grange will host an “Eggstravaganza” to celebrate completion of the GrowME activities completed throughout the week—and the hatching of a local program that’s sure to grow every year. Everyone involved in the project – volunteers, teachers, students, parents—is invited! Donna Coffin of Piscataquis County Extension will introduce her “virtual chicken” so we can all learn how eggs are formed and we’ll have highlights of the program’s results. Bring your favorite egg-based dish to share at a community potluck supper at 6 PM. For additional information contact Walter Boomsma at 343-1842 or email. Grange Hall is located at the corner of Guilford Center Road and Butter Street.

GrowME Update

During their recent meeting, the GrowME Team decided to adopt some structure based on the enthusiastic response they’ve had to their offer to provide agricultural activities to local classrooms. Walter Boomsma of Valley Grange will be serving as coordinator for S.A.D. 4 and School Union 60. Shelia Richards of PCSWCD will focus on S.A.D. 68 while Felicia Dumont of UMaine Piscataquis County Extension will work with S.A.D. 41.

The collaboration was loosely formed earlier this year to “build a truly local program of agriculturally themed activities for kids led by local volunteers with the objective of creating agricultural literacy and making it fun.” For their first year, the group decided to focus on Kindergarten through first grade and offer short “hands-on” activities in March when “Ag Day” is traditionally celebrated.

“We were optimistic, but not really prepared,” said Walter Boomsma of Valley Grange. “Within a very short period of time we had classrooms from nearly every school in the county signed up.” Boomsma estimates that the collaboration will end up working with over 30 classrooms and nearly 500 students.

The GrowME team also set a deadline of March 2nd for classes to sign up, but Shelia Richards admits it might not be strictly enforced. “We want to be organized and make sure provide a quality experience,” she said. “But it would be hard to say ‘no’ to a teacher or class who wanted us, even at the last minute.”

The group hopes to have their volunteer roster complete by March 9th. Volunteers will have some options in terms of activities, but there will be some guidelines to insure activities are appropriate. Project Team member Lynn Lubas is working on a catalog of activities. “We are creating some structure based on our belief this will be an ongoing program. We don’t want students to repeat an activity as they progress to a new grade, so our options will be determined by grade level.” Lubas also noted that volunteers do not have to be in charge of an activity. Helpers are also needed.

Boomsma is handling publicity for the group and he finds it amusing that interest outside the area is already growing even though the program hasn’t happened yet. “We were recently mentioned in New England City and Town News Notes where a synopsis of our program is listed as an ‘Education Idea Starter.’ I think the appeal of what we’re doing is about simplicity and collaboration. We don’t have or need a budget. We have people with passion, energy, and most importantly—a shared goal.”

More information is available from any one of the coordinators: Boomsma at 343-1842, Richards at 564-2321 and Dumont at 564-3301. The next GrowME team meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 5th at 9 AM at the PCSWCD office. All are welcome!

GrowME Sprouts and Spurts

While it might be difficult to think about gardening and farming in mid-January, a group of volunteers are doing just that. The result is a GrowME program being offered to K-3 teachers and schools in Piscataquis County. The program is the result of collaboration between Valley Grange, PCSWCD (Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District) and UMaine Piscataquis County Extension.

The program aims to utilize local volunteers who will work with teachers to schedule an agricultural activity in their classrooms during Maine Agriculture Week (March 12-16). Shelia Richards, Executive Director of PCSWCD is particularly excited over the “hands on” aspect of the activities. “Thanks to our rural nature in Piscataquis County, we don’t have the ‘nature deficit’ that some more urban areas experience,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be offering our kids an opportunity to involve all their senses and get some hands on learning.”

Walter Boomsma, program director for Valley Grange agrees. For the past few years he’s visited second graders at PCES to make butter. “We have fun and the kids almost don’t realize they are learning–some have even asked for instructions and then made butter at home as a family activity.” Grange members have also done seed planting activities and created animal graphs. “We also spend some time just talking with the kids—many have chickens and gardens and it’s fun to share experiences.” Richards has also seen positive impact of these hands on experiences—she’s visited a local preschool with a kid – the goat kind – for several years. After last year’s activities, she and Boomsma agreed to explore working together to expand and formalize the program.

Boomsma notes that within a few days of announcing the program they had 27 classes signed up, but there should be no shortage of volunteers and resources thanks to the collaboration. “We’ve got master gardeners and farmers available through Extension Programs and PCSWCD includes partners and resources that are committed to good stewardship. Our goal is to keep this informal, local, and a true partnership between our schools, teachers, and volunteers. It’s not so much that we have a program to offer—it’s more about working together to make good use of our resources. Our volunteers will have the sort of agricultural experience and background to be especially relevant to students while providing insight into the importance of agriculture in our area.”

This year, the group is planning to focus on kindergarten through third grade but is hoping to make this an annual program and expand into additional grades.

This year’s offer is for a GrowME volunteer to visit for about 20 minutes and work with students on a simple, grade appropriate activity. Teachers and administrators who are interested need only furnish contact information: teacher’s name-email address and grade. Interested teachers may email or call Shelia at PCSWCD, 564-2321.

January Activities Abound!

No More Naked Sheep!

We’ve got a great meeting planned for this month… and an important one to boot! Expect a great potluck supper… and we’re inviting our knitters to come and pick up yarn. We now have three collection points, including Piscataquis Community Elementary School—their box was half full last time I checked, Penquis, and the County Extension Office in Dover. Janice and I spent several evenings de-tangling and making yarn balls… we have another box ready to go! If you’ve got some extra yarn hanging around, bring it to the meeting! We’ve also had a request for afghan patterns that you might no longer need. If you have a large quantity of this stuff, I might even arrange for it to be picked up!

Domestics, you have a call…!

At least one other grange and several other organizations around the state have joined our efforts to supply linens to our last troops to leave Iran, soon returning to Manneheim Germany. We’re looking for single bed sheets and pillow cases, towels and wash clothes. Contact Mary Annis (564-0820) for more information or bring them to the meeting.

Fast Facts regarding this month’s meeting…

The date is January 20th. We start with potluck supper at 6 PM… and good grange food on a cold winter’s night is just the right thing! You can check out the recently assembled book of thank you notes for dictionaries, too. We’ll have it toasty warm… and our meeting will begin at 7 PM. The “lecturer’s program” this month features Denise Trafton from Journey House. You are definitely going to want to hear about this—it’s a program that works!  

GrowME is growing!

We now have 27 classes signed up in Greenville, Guilford, and Dover Foxcroft! Bookworms and Valley Grangers are going to want to “reserve” their spot early! The classroom activities will all need to be scheduled during Agriculture Week (March 12-16).

Newspapers in Education

Believe it or not, Newspapers in Education starts again soon Ads must be completed and turned in by March 5th, so we’re already putting together the plan…  This is huge fun and a great opportunity to teach third and fourth graders what the grange is about.

 You Can!

FYI… there are some great “traditional skills” courses coming up starting early in February with “Slice it, Salt it, Stomp it!—how to preserve your garden crop without canning or freezing. There are other courses ranging from backyard maple syrup to starting plants to backyard poultry. Check ‘em out online at! They’re all about independence and self-sufficiency during these tough economic times—and the most expensive class is $15—most are only $5-$10! (You Can is a collaboration between UMaine Piscataquis County Extension and Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative.)

GrowME Collaboration Announced

Valley Grange is pleased and excited to announce yet another collaboration… this time with PCSWCD (Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District) and Piscataquis County UMaine Extension Service.

For a number of years Valley Grange “Bookworms” have visited Kindergarten through Third Grade Classrooms in S.A.D. 4 to provide a short reading and activity period in conjunction with Maine Agriculture Week. Students and teachers look forward to our visits in March almost as much as we do! Some of those activities are well on the way to becoming annual “rituals.” Second graders, for example, know that Mr. Boomsma will be making butter with them. Shelia Richards of PCSWCD has visited pre-school classes accompanied by a kid — not the human-kind. In this case a baby goat!

These activities have been meant to make some “hands on” farm and garden activities available to schools and teachers in our county. We’ve also made favorite farm animal graphs with Kindergarten classes and planted sunflower seeds in CD cases with third graders. If there’s been a frustration it’s that we’ve had limited resources and time and haven’t been able to get to more schools and classes.

Thanks to this collaboration, we anticipate having ample volunteers and will now offer the program to schools throughout our county. Many of these volunteers have the sort of agricultural experience and background to be especially relevant to students while providing insight into the importance of agriculture in our area. Our intent is to conduct these activities during Agriculture Week–celebrated this year from March 12 – 16. For this year, we are planning to focus on kindergarten through third grade. Our hope is that this will become an annual program and we may expand into different grades.

Our most immediate need is some gauge of interest and volunteer requirements. To that end, we are contacting schools and teachers with a simple offer: a GrowME volunteer will visit your classroom for about 20 minutes (at a mutually convenient time) to work with your kids on a simple, grade appropriate activity. Teachers and administrators need only furnish contact information: teacher’s name-email address and grade. We’ll take it from there! Interested teachers may email or call Shelia at PCSWCD, 564-2321.

If you’d like to help with promotion, download the GrowME Poster… and be sure to sign up for the GrowME newsletter so you’ll get updates and schedules. (We won’t share your email address with anyone else and we won’t bug you too much!)

In the spirit of collaboration we fully intend to work together to create a program that works for everyone. Suggestions, ideas, and questions are welcome–as are volunteers interested in conducting activities or helping us build the program. Please help us spread the word and “GrowME!”