Hands-on learning

Levi Elliott explains the process of restoring a 1950s Farmall tractor to FFA Open House judge Riley Klein, managing editor of The Lakeville Journal.

Patrick L. Sullivan

Hands-on learning

As legend goes, when Ian Strever first became principal of Housatonic Valley Regional High School he asked a Lakeville Journal reporter who was familiar with the school if he had any advice going into the new role.

“Whatever you do, don’t mess with FFA.”

Agriculture education is a pillar of the HVRHS curriculum and has been for generations. The Housatonic Valley Agriculture Science and Technology Center of the school greets visitors as the foremost department on campus and has become home to timeless Northwest Corner traditions.

Production Night in November offers all-natural wreathmaking for the holiday season. The student-run Holiday Store provides Christmas trees, poinsettias, and delicious chocolate milk each December. Elementary schools and child care centers from across the region visit during the annual Open House in May. Hayrides, a trip to the petting zoo, equipment demonstrations, and student presentations all take place right on HVRHS’s campus.

The Open House continues into the evening where student presentations are displayed for hundreds of guests. Here, the reason Principal Strever was advised to keep the program running as it has for years becomes clear. Housatonic Valley FFA rewards individual interests and keeps rural culture alive.

Students are encouraged to explore their passions, even those that don’t directly align with standard high school education. Under the umbrella of agri-science, pursuits include environmentalism, mechanical engineering, animal care, business management, food production, and specialized trade professions.

Levi Elliot, freshman FFA student, demonstrated his custom rebuilt 1950s Farmall tractor at the Open House May 15. He and his grandfather modified the machine from top to bottom to compete in tractor pull competitions. Elliot explained the ins and outs of how each component contributes to the overall goal of pulling up to 1,000 pounds in tow.

Dana Saccardi shared a presentation on The Local in West Cornwall, a community market that sells locally sourced goods. Farmers and crafters bring their wares to The Local and when products sell, the market keeps 10% and the remaining 90% goes to the seller. Items include baked goods, fresh produce, local meats, honey, maple syrup, pottery, woodwork, and even 3D printed nightlight covers. Saccardi has worked at The Local for the past year.

Kara Frank presented the art of Western tack along with her partner, a horse, on the oval lawn in front of HVRHS. Tack refers to the various accessories and equipment used in horseback riding. Western tack differs from English tack in several areas, and Frank explained why she prefers Western-style riding. The sitting style on the saddle allows for more tilt and longer stirrups. A horn sits on the front of Western saddles, often used for securing a lasso. Spurs are used in Western tack, but Frank assured guests the spurs are dull and do not hurt the horse.

A far cry from dioramas and book reports, the presentations at FFA’s Open House highlight what sets the agriculture education program apart. When students are encouraged to explore their passions, no matter how niche, the results are inspiring. Hands-on learners thrive while building essential skills for life in the Northwest Corner.

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