A University of Maine at Presque Isle staff member and 2004 alumna recently received major recognition from the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs – she was honored with the Rising Star Award during the association's annual meeting. This is the association's most prestigious honor.
Jessica Blackstone, UMPI's Assistant Director of Admissions, was recognized for her work with the Northern Maine Fair Association, specifically the extremely popular Lil' Farmers at the Fair exhibit, which took months of planning and preparation to put together.
Lil' Farmers at the Fair made its debut at the 2011 Northern Maine Agricultural Fair. A hands-on exhibit for children ages 3 to 10, the free attraction provided the opportunity for kids to experience the agricultural process from beginning to end. The self-guided farm tour included five miniature barns, an apple orchard, and a vegetable garden. As children passed through the exhibit, they were able to see the animals and plants that farmers raise and take the "products" they collected along the way to the "Farmer's Market" at the end of the tour.
To make this exhibit a reality, though, the mini-barns had to be built, display items from life-like chickens and apples to a "milk-able" cow had to be gathered, and a crowd of volunteers had to be organized.
In nominating Blackstone, Northern Maine Fair Association President Kevin McCartney described her dedication to the project, which she took on immediately after joining the fair board.
"The original plans were to have three small barns the first year but Jessica's considerable energy led to pursuit of funds and people to construct all five planned barns," McCartney stated. "Lil' Farmers was and is a huge success, with more than 5,000 people taking the tour at the past Fair... This project is an inspiration for other fairs in Maine, and Jessica is an inspiration to us all."
Blackstone has an agricultural background, and passion for agricultural education. She was an active volunteer with the Northern Maine Fair prior to joining the board in late 2010. Blackstone is the UMPI Collegiate FFA Advisor, a member of the Aroostook County Farm Bureau, Maine Agri-Women and Easton Kiwanis. She also serves on the Maine State FFA Advisory Board and is the Northern Maine Fair FFA Superintendent. Although she is not involved in agriculture on a day to day basis, Blackstone states that agriculture has always been an integral part of her life and she hopes that her involvement in these organizations will allow her to make a positive impact in the agriculture community.
During the MAAF annual meeting, Blackstone was able to talk about the Lil' Farmers at the Fair project. It appears there is interest among other fair associations in Maine in having their own similar exhibits, so Blackstone will be busy sharing her experiences on the project and assisting other fair organizers in expanding on this idea.
According to its website, the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs is made up of volunteers from its member fairs. There are 26 licensed agricultural fairs in Maine. The MAAF's goal is to represent the agricultural fairs of the State of Maine, by promoting good fellowship and the spirit of cooperation among officials of the fairs. Members are encouraged to exchange ideas, stimulate cooperation, and provide an educational experience for fair-goers.
For more information about the Lil' Farmers at the Fair exhibit, check out a four-minute video of the project at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vrp0Uoy4GQ.