State News

Inside MFB’s Farm Science Lab next school year won’t look the same with new safety protocols in place, but duty calls and the mobile classroom is eager to get its STEM game back on the road.

Don’t look now but chances are good Michigan Farm Bureau’s Farm Science Lab may very well be back on the road this fall, bringing ag-informed STEM lessons to elementary schools across the state! Sidelined like everything else by the COVID pandemic, MFB’s twin mobile classrooms are getting masked up and vaccinated with new safety protocols in preparation for the 2021-22 school year.

“Our goal is to have one lab on the road this fall, then both reactivated in the spring of 2022,” said Michelle Blodgett, who manages the labs as a function of MFB’s greater Ag in the Classroom efforts. “Right now our phone lines are open and we’re booking reservations for the fall.”

New safety measures start with slashing the lab’s normal 30-student capacity, possibly to as few as 10 kiddos per session. All students will have to sanitize upon entering and exiting the trailers, which will be thoroughly wiped down and sanitized between sessions.

The overall frequency of lab visits is also expected to decrease well below its customary pace of five to eight schools per month.

The Farm Science Labs each represent the culmination of a tremendous grassroots efforts to develop the programming and fund the construction of the mobile classrooms that’ve been a jewel in MFB’s crown since the first lab hit the road four years ago.

Praise from teachers has complimented every aspect of the Farm Science Lab experience; their comments speak for themselves:

  • What an awesome program. We need more of this available to our students.
  • My students really enjoyed the lesson and really liked the small farm they got to take home with them.
  • The educator was very professional and having a background in teaching was definitely a plus in managing our class.
  • Great presentation. Impressive lab! Students were happy and proud to take home a plant. THANK YOU!
  • It was a really neat and innovative way to bring a field trip to our school for less cost!
  • My class really enjoyed this. They came back to the classroom talking about all of the parts and how they were important. They were excited to share what they learned with each other. My group was thirsty for more. Overall it was a great experience!
  • Very well organized and I appreciated the video to show first. The teacher very effective in getting across concepts — very cheerful, very patient…
  • Our students absolutely loved the true lab experience! They were engaged and talked about it for several days. The instructor was fun and energetic! Thank you for the wonderful lessons!
  • Thank you so much for making this such a meaningful and fantastic opportunity for the students and teachers!
  • I was really impressed with the knowledge and patience that the teacher had.
  • Our instructor was super with my students! She kept their attention and had management skills to keep them on her. My students loved it!

Click here to learn more about the Farm Science Lab. School administrators can reserve the lab here.

Don’t look now but chances are good Michigan Farm Bureau’s Farm Science Lab may very well be back on the road this fall, bringing ag-informed STEM lessons to elementary schools across the state!

Need extra hands at your district-level events this summer? Reach out to your future members: high school and college students.

Two sweet wins right off the bat: Your county Farm Bureau grows its volunteer pool (surely on your long to-do list) AND the students you involve experience our grassroots process firsthand.

For ways to utilize high school and collegiate members, check out this huge infographic below (click here to see and download a full-size version).

For help connecting with these groups, contact Katie Eisenberger, MFB’s High School & Collegiate Programs Specialist.

Need extra hands at your district-level events this summer? Reach out to your future members: high school and college students.
By Jeremy C. Nagel

2019 Volunteer of the Year Amanda Kutchey
2020 Volunteer of the Year Diane Hanson 
2015 Volunteer of the Year Kristin Kubiszak 

As an adjective used to describe Farm Bureau, grassroots is one word: your grassroots organization. As a noun synonymous with our membership itself, it’s two words: Farm Bureau’s strength comes from its grass roots.

I write it both ways all the time and it’s still confusing. I look it up a lot. But until there comes a word/term better suited for both labeling and describing Farm Bureau members, we will continue to wear…it...out.

This is National Volunteer Appreciation Week and its Farm Bureau half-sibling, County Leader Week — as good a time as any to give credit where it’s due, express gratitude and ponder how to improve. To that end Farm Gate phoned some experts: recent state-level Volunteers of the Year.

It’s a busy time of year so we didn’t get through to everyone, but those who could chat shared some very ponder-worthy thoughts on the role and value of Farm Bureau volunteers, including how to ensure their efforts are properly recognized after the fact.

It's an Attitude

Wise beyond her years, 2015 Volunteer of the Year Kristin Kubiszak (blueberries, Van Buren County) knows all outstanding volunteers share a kind of aw-shucks-it’s-nothin’ nonchalance about what they do.

“It’s an attitude,” Kubiszak said. “It’s a mindset that applies to much more than volunteering. My grandpa always told me: ‘There’s doers in this world and there’s people who don’t do, so you might as well be a doer.’”

Her timely example:

“We ordered FARM Crates and had all these deliveries to make and called around to find people to help,” Kubiszak said, but ended up leaning on board members. “We have a really good board.”

Another common quality is that great volunteers rarely expect — and often shun — recognition for their effort. Their real reward is in the work itself.

Back to the FARM Crates:

“So I delivered all these boxes to all these schools and by the end of the day it was just so fun and exciting, talking with all the school secretaries and they were all excited to take them to the classrooms,” she said. “You just felt so nice that you were going out and making a difference, reaching out to all these kids.”

When it comes to thank-yous, she said even first-timers appreciate something tangible over a paper certificate at the county annual, months after the fact.

“We started giving people food vouchers — $10 to eat at fair — and they love it,” she said. “Also we gave people t-shirts and it was like this big deal, they loved it!”

Yeah I'll Help

With first-hand insights as a grassroots member, county staffer and now a county Farm Bureau president, Amanda Kutchey (vegetables, Macomb) has stared down the volunteer experience from every angle. Even so, the 2019 Volunteer of the Year doesn’t have a magic wand and wrestles with all the same challenges as her peers across the state.

“When I was a CAM they had me calling people directly to round them up for activities,” but remembers it being like holding water in her hands. “Even for my county now, as a volunteer and county president, that’s something we can do better at.”

One effective tactic she’s found starts with being realistic about the effort involved in specific tasks, then divvying them up accordingly.

“If you leave the heavy lifting to the board and the county office — so your volunteers just get the fun stuff, so it’s not like a job per se — then it’s easier for people to volunteer.

“It does help get people more responsive to say, “Yeah I’ll help with that.”

When it comes to tangible-token recognition, Kutchey hasn’t found a $10 gift certificate any more or less effective than “the hitch pin or the gloves — although some people do love those things…

“I think truly when you get people who are passionate about the industry, they’re going to do it whether there’s recognition or not: They’re rewarded by the outcome.”

Can't be Afraid to Ask

Yoopers take pride in doing things their own way, but Diane Hanson’s recruiting approach may still surprise you. Last year’s Volunteer of the Year has found success staffing events by looking outside the box.

“Look outside your own Farm Bureau membership,” said the former Hiawathaland president. “I’ve found that for the Miracle of Life exhibit I don’t just get Farm Bureau members, I get people who’re interested in just doing that exhibit.

“They don’t have any ag background, but they’re retired” and enjoy the social component: mingling with the thousands of fair-goers who every year visit Michigan’s premier live-birthing exhibit.

But her wider-net approach isn’t limited just to the biggest event on the calendar.

“When we did the district discussion meet, the people I had helping weren’t Farm Bureau members. One was an MSU Extension person who comes to a lot of Farm Bureau things. Then I asked my neighbor from down the road and they took on the food.

“You can’t be afraid to ask somebody to help.”

Food for Thought

You can’t help but notice some themes here; each is worth a good hard think:

  1. Each has found success trying things that deviate from what we’d consider Farm Bureau convention or norms. We all love our comfortable ruts, but sometimes leaving them pays off.
  2. By a landslide, they’re mostly women. The last male Volunteer of the Year was Dave VanDyke in 2012 (dairy, Ottawa), a soft-spoken giant who avoids notice better than a shy owl.
  3. …because: Not one Farm Bureau rock star is in it for the recognition. Their reward is in the work itself, only it’s not work to them. Appreciation after the fact is important but not motivational; and practical/edible tokens win out here over ceremonial ones.


NOTE: Members’ names above are linked to their original Volunteer of the Year article. Each contains more Yoda-level wisdom illuminating the mysteries of volunteerism. Here are some more:

  • 2013 Volunteer of the Year Mandy Teachworth’s nominator tellingly remarked, “She doesn’t think she’s done anything special.”
  • 2014: Kathy Walicki launched Oceana County’s industry-spanning Ag Banquet and Taste of Oceana events.
  • 2016: Daniela Dryer “jumped in and kept going… I grew up with farming, it’s my life and I want to share it.”
  • 2017: Katelyn Packard said: “That’s really what drives me: I really enjoy teaching people about what I do every day.”
  • 2018: Stacey Lauwers was vital in developing MFB’s FARM Science Lab mobile classrooms.
As an adjective used to describe Farm Bureau, grassroots is one word: your grassroots organization. As a noun synonymous with our membership itself, it’s two words: Farm Bureau’s strength comes from its grass roots.

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