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Eleven Vermont Students Receive Land Stewards Award

Each year, the Vermont Land Trust gives out the Land Stewards Award to qualified junior and senior high school students across the state. The students are nominated by their teachers because of their commitment to agriculture and/or forestry. This year, eleven students received the award and a $250 cash prize from Vermont Land Trust representatives.

The Land Stewards Award was created twelve years ago in memory of Kathy O’Dell, a Vermont Land Trust employee. Kathy believed in the importance of honoring the young people who want to take care of the land through agriculture and forestry-related career paths.

“The future of Vermont’s landscape really relies on having young people like Andrew who are knowledgeable and care about our farms and forests,” said Bob Heiser of the Vermont Land Trust.

“I really enjoy being able to present the Land Stewards Award to deserving students in my area,” added Vermont Land Trust’s Donna Foster. “It is wonderful to learn more about young people who decide to pursue careers in natural resources, and especially agriculture and forestry.”

The recipients of the 2017 Land Stewards Awards were:

Andrew Boutin (Center for Technology, Essex)

Andrew Boutin has worked on his family’s farm since a young age. He manages their woodlot and cuts all of their firewood. He is also a part of his local FFA chapter (“Future Farmers of America”), and last year placed second in Vermont’s FFA speaking contest. “Andrew is dedicated to completing his goal of becoming a forester, and doing his part to improve or preserve Vermont’s forests,” wrote Robert Siddens, Andrew’s Agricultural Mechanics teacher. Andrew is looking forward to continuing his studies in in forestry at the University of Maine Fort Kent’s Forestry Program.

Austin Turco (River Valley Technical Center, Springfield)

Austin Turco helps his family tap 275 acres on the back side of Okemo Mountain. He has been involved in sugaring for 16 years. Over the past six years he has taken on much more responsibility, putting in more than 1,000 hours in the sugarbush and sugarhouse. He installs and repairs line, taps trees, runs the reverse osmosis equipment, gathers sap, and boils it into syrup.

“At a very young age I started to engage myself into the business,” wrote Austin. “I shortly realized after that sugaring was what I wanted to do as a job. The first reason is because the outdoors is very peaceful. You can make a good income and I like doing it.”

Austin has participated in land judging and forestry events at FFA statewide competitions. He has spent time helping out at community agricultural events, shadowing a local logger, and completing the Game of Logging level 3 certification. Austin would like to attend Vermont Technical College, to study either forestry or landscape design and sustainable horticulture.

Brooke Moses (Randolph Technical Career Center)

Brooke Moses works at two dairy farms and has five oxen of her own, which she shows at the Tunbridge Fair. Brooke received the Land Stewards Award at the Beidler Family Farm, where she works. This grass-based, organic dairy is conserved with the Vermont Land Trust. Farmers Brent and Regina Beidler also sell eggs, spelt flour, and this year, cutting flowers.

“Brooke is passionate about organic dairy and working with her animals,” wrote her Agriculture Technology teacher, Matt Dragon. “When she finds out about new breeds or markets she researches them and alters her plans accordingly. Brooke is intelligent, determined and focused.”

Brooke hopes to have an organic dairy farm of her own one day. She will be studying business at Vermont Community College this fall.

Carter Aldrich (Lake Region Union High School, Orleans)

Carter Aldrich led his class maple sugaring field trip and planned activities for a crew of eight students who boiled sap in a small arch evaporator the class made. He is involved with his family’s business, Northeast Agricultural Sales, Inc. Carter has also been the president of the Lake Region FFA chapter for two years. He has excelled in his agriculture classes, including Shop, Art of Welding, Diversified Agriculture, and Sustainable Living. Thinking toward the future, Carter would like to attend Paul Smith’s College to become a game warden or continue his family’s agricultural sales business.

Curtis Lessard (Woodstock Union High School)

Since the age of ten, Curtis Lessard has been working on farms. Most recently, he has focused on beef cattle and sugaring at two local farms: Cloudland Farm in Pomfret, which is protected through the Vermont Land Trust, and Richardson’s Farm in Hartland, protected through the Upper Valley Land Trust. Curtis is also president of his school’s FFA chapter (Agricultural Exploration Club), and serves as a volunteer fireman. Last year, he traveled with a high school group to Puerto Rico to plant trees and visit sustainable farms.

Curtis received the 2+2 Award: a scholarship, one of five scholarships awarded statewide, to enroll in the 4-year dairy farm management program of Vermont Technical College and the University of Vermont. He hopes to farm in Vermont after completing the program.

Destiny Somers (Lyndon Institute)

Destiny has volunteered for two summers at the Lyndon Institute garden, and at a local community garden growing vegetables. She has also been employed for two years at Houghton’s Greenhouse in Lyndon. Destiny was a part of Mr. Jerry Leonard’s diversified agriculture class that helped to build a sugarhouse for the school.

“Destiny has many personal qualities that reflect highly of her character and stewardship,” said Mr. Leonard. “She continually puts other people’s needs ahead of her own. She is always wanting to learn more about sustainable agriculture and looks for ways she can use that knowledge to participate in helping a local charity or non-profit with agriculture.”

Destiny will be attending Champlain College for a degree in education this fall.

Howie Vander Wey (Vergennes Union High School and Hannaford Career Center)

Howie grew up on his family’s dairy: Nea Tocht farm in Ferrisburgh. There, he takes care of the heifers, cleans the barn, and helps out with haying. He has started raising two pigs each year, one to sell and the other for his family. He is interested in starting a cut firewood business as well. Howie hopes to continue to work in agriculture as a career, perhaps raising pigs, beef, and/or some crops like corn or oats. He is a part of his local FFA chapter (Future Farmers of America) and is working towards getting his Commercial Driver’s License. He has taken Plant and Animal Science and Diesel Power Technology classes at the Hannaford Career Center, and plans to complete the diesel power technology program next year.

“Howie loves the land,” wrote Bill Van De Weert, agriculture teacher. “He and his family have a culture of valuing agriculture. It is what they live and breathe.”

Joseph Mitchell (River Bend Career and Technical Center, Bradford)

Joseph Mitchell started a business called Yeoman Brewing Company, which creates natural teas using locally sourced ingredients such as maple syrup, fruit, and herbs. Joe grew up with a family garden where he learned to grow herbs, and is involved with two community gardens where he is planting bee gardens.

Joe was instrumental in re-starting the River Bend chapter of FFA (“Future Farmers of America”) and is the chapter’s president. He is involved in Future Business Leaders of America, student and athletic councils, and local outdoor recreation programs. He has also participated in the Game of Logging, and apple cider pressing with his class. Joe plans to attend Sterling College, studying a self-designed major in Sustainable Entrepreneurship.

Parker Castle (North Country Career Center, Newport)

Parker Castle is involved with his family’s sugaring operation, and took a lead role this year in all aspects of production, from tapping to boiling. He is a Nordic skier and maintains and grooms trails on his family’s land. He wants to obtain his pilot’s license, and hopes to use this skill in a forestry career. Parker will be attending Paul Smith’s college this fall to study forestry.

Parker is also a part of the local FFA club (“Future Farmers of America”), participating in fundraisers, community suppers, and the State FFA Convention. He recently joined his Natural Resources teacher, Mr. Sam Nijensohn, and fellow students for a Vermont Forest Products Association regional meeting. “Parker is a great role model,” wrote Mr. Nijensohn. “He spends a lot of extra time at school whenever the need or opportunity arises to help make his class successful. For example, he has come in on his own time to plow snow and to boil sap.”

Sara Hoadley (Green Mountain Technical Career Center, Hyde Park)

Sara Hoadley was the first student involved in GMTCC’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems class, led by Sustainable Agriculture Instructor Sam Rowley. Sara spent six weeks last summer helping to manage the land and grow the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program, which takes place on a satellite campus on land conserved with the Vermont Land Trust. She helped to develop the laying flock, maintain the goat herd, and plant a half-acre of organic vegetables. Sara also provided valuable input to the overall farm plan, which includes using the chickens to improve the hayfields, developing rotational grazing patterns for the cattle, and planting annual and perennial crops.

This fall, Sara will be attending Vermont Technical College as a high school senior through their early college program. She will be enrolled in the Vet Tech program, focusing on large animals. “In the future, she hopes to own and care for animals of her own and contribute to Vermont’s agricultural economy,” said Mr. Rowley. “Sara acknowledges the importance of preserving land for agricultural use and shows an underlying drive to keep our Vermont land productive.”

Troy Felisko (Windham Regional Career Center, Brattleboro)

“I have always had a passion in the agricultural field,” says Troy Felisko. Troy was nominated for the Land Stewards Award by his Forestry Instructor, Errold Nelson, because of his experience raising Black Angus and Highlander cattle for beef production, and his dedication to learning about forestry and horticulture in the classroom. He will be attending SUNY Cobleskill to major in Beef, Livestock, and Animal Studies this fall.


Troy recently got cows of his own, which he keeps at his family’s land in Wilmington. For six years, he has worked at the Morse Farm, also known as Maple Hill Farm, in Whitingham. This farm owns forest and farmland protected with the Vermont Land Trust, and produces beef and maple syrup. Troy also participates in the local FFA chapter (“Future Farmers of America”). He placed 7th in the State FFA Soils Competition, and was on the 3rd place team at the Winter FFA Forestry Event.