‘Back to the future’ with agriscience

By Noreen Heikes

This fall, Scotts-based Tillers International partnered with the Animals and Plants introductory agriscience class at Vicksburg High School to pilot a “Back to the Future” project. The students were tasked with using knowledge from 19th century farming technology to engineer a farm implement that would solve a specific current problem in the developing world.

Tillers International’s mission is “to preserve, study and exchange skills and tools that empower communities worldwide to improve livelihoods and agricultural productivity.”

The organization works both in the US and in developing countries to re-engineer antique farm equipment from locally available materials to allow more efficient agricultural production. Low-tech equipment that is human or animal powered tends to be more easily afforded and repaired than the large farm implements commonly used in the US.

Tillers has ongoing projects in several African countries. Most of these involve some form of animal-powered tillage or cultivation equipment. At the Scotts farm, it prototypes these implements and uses draft power (horses, donkeys and oxen) to operate them. It also teaches classes on skills as diverse as blacksmithing, timber framing and draft animal power.

After learning a bit of background information on global food supply and agriculture in developing countries, students formed working groups. Each group was given a specific challenge to solve via the implement they designed. With this challenge in mind, students went to the Tillers farm and toured both the museum and the prototype shop. This allowed them to gather ideas, photograph implements, and consult with Tillers experts regarding their project. In addition, they viewed sustainable agriculture practices, and worked with the mammoth donkey team.

The project wrapped up with each student group presenting their invention to a panel of experts from Tillers. Students were able to receive feedback on their work and learn more about the engineering and mechanics involved in prototyping new “old” technology. In addition, students were offered the opportunity to continue partnering with Tillers in various capacities, including supervised agricultural experience projects, taking classes, and carrying their implement forward through forging and fabrication.

Sheep grazing honored at The Mill

Tilth: cultivation of land; tillage

No gas-powered mowers shave the 16-acre grassland at The Mill at Vicksburg. Trimming’s taken care of by Lauren Burns, owner of Tending Tilth, and her herd of several dozen sheep.

The Mill in a press release is showing off a partnership with Burns and her contract sheep-grazing business. Through the grazing practices of the company, the grassland site in the conservation area of The Mill has been verified as environmentally sustainable through Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). Lauren and Mill representatives unveiled a sign identifying the status at the Mill Tuesday, Oct. 17.

2011, Public Acts 1 and 2 codified the MAEAP into Michigan state law. MAEAP is another way the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Michigan’s agriculture industry are proactively and comprehensively addressing environmental concerns. This program is the state’s latest tool to assist in the implementation of agricultural pollution prevention practices on farms. 

MAEAP is a voluntary, proactive program designed by a coalition of farmers, agricultural commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation and environmental groups to teach effective land stewardship practices that comply with state and federal regulations. It shows producers how to identify and prevent agricultural pollution risks on their farms. 

The program includes a livestock category, focusing on environmental issues related to livestock activities, including manure handling, storage and field application, as well as conservation practices to protect water and prevent soil erosion.

In addition to the sheep grazing provided by Tending Tilth, Vicksburg High School students and other community members have found ways to use and enjoy the prairie site at the Mill.  Current community partnerships include: Western Michigan University’s Hydrogeology Department, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) and the Kalamazoo College Biology Department.

More Photos/Video: https://theimageshoppe.filecamp.com/s/o/AOMIlXafnmiKFlqf

Learn more about Tending Tilth at https://tendingtilth.com.

Learn more about the Mill at Vicksburg at www.vicksburgmill.com.

Generous Hands update

Strike Out for Hunger participants and volunteers.

By Paula Schriemer, Generous Hands board member

Generous Hands has been busy this fall!

In anticipation of school starting, Generous Hands, in partnership with South County Community Services, hosted an annual Backpack Bonanza on August 5 at the GH/SCCS offices. Not only did kids receive new school backpacks with school supplies, but they were also treated to a crafts table, their choice of a new book and a package of hygiene items. The Meijer corporation helped fund this event and also provided snacks for the kids that day. Other organizations assisting the Bonanza:

  • ChapNaz Community Clothes Closet and St. Martin’s Church provided gently used school clothes for kids.
  • Be Smart: a gun safety organization which provides helpful information to parents and grandparents about the importance of secure firearm storage to keep kids safe. Find out about its efforts at www.besmartforkids.org.
  • First Day Shoe Fund: a Kalamazoo nonprofit which provides new athletic shoes to elementary school-aged kids. Generous Hands has partnered with FDSF for several years to help Vicksburg kids “put their best foot forward”. Learn more about them at www.firstdayshoefund.org
The Backpack Bonanza.

A total of 32 volunteers helped at the event, and overall, 269 kids have received school supplies from the Backpack Bonanza.

Generous Hands partnered again with South County Community Services at the Harvest Festival on September 24 at the Vicksburg Historical Village. 320 kids decorated kid-sized pumpkins with stickers and markers on that beautiful sunny fall day.

On October 1, GH was on the receiving end of a huge food donation from the Strike Out Hunger Softball Tournament organized by VHS Athletic Director Mike Roy. Over 5,000 pounds of food and 59 pounds of hygiene items were contributed, the biggest single food donation Generous Hands has ever received!! Vicksburg is a generous community!

Generous Hands also participated in the Burg Days of Summer, the Transportation Safety Carnival and the Vicksburg Community Tailgate. The Generous Hands Blessing Boxes continue to be stocked and snacks are being delivered to each of the VCS buildings to help feed hungry kids. GH Executive Director Sheri Louis reports that this fall, Generous Hands is serving 136 families with 313 children (an 8% increase over last year at this time) and that new children and families are being registered every day. Louis says “We are looking forward to seeing lots of kids and families at our Holiday Party, co-sponsored by South County Community Services, on December 2.”

Learn more about Generous Hands and our programs at generoushands.org.