News Briefs

Student recognized for land stewardship

The Vermont Land Trust recognized two local students from Rutland and Windsor Counties with the Land Stewards Award. The award, now in its 12th year, acknowledges the hard work of tomorrow’s agricultural and forestry leaders with a cash prize of $250. Eleven qualified students in Vermont will receive the Land Stewards Award this year.

Austin Turco, from Mount Holly, is a student at River Valley Technical Center in Springfield. John Harmer, horticulture and natural resources instructor, nominated Turco for the award because of his many years of experience sugaring at his family’s sugaring operation.

Joan Weir of the Vermont Land Trust presented Turco with his award and a $250 prize earlier this month at the River Valley Technical Center’s awards ceremony.

“Austin has a great work ethic which comes from his years of practical work experience, which is impressive to see at such a young age,” said Harmer. “Austin applies what he has learned in the classroom to the lab activities where he always participates 110 percent. He is a leader among his peers and very courteous and respectful to everyone.”

Turco ‘s family taps 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 Turco. “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.”

Turco is also a member of the local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter, and has participated in land judging and forestry events at FFA statewide competitions. He has spent time on community service agricultural events, shadowing a local logger, and completing the Game of Logging Level 3 certification.

Turco would like to attend Vermont Technical College, to study either forestry or landscape design and sustainable horticulture. “When I get older my plans are to take over the business and expand it as well as managing orchards for other operators,” Turco said.

Woodstock Union High School student Curtis Lessard was nominated for the award by his Agricultural Instructor, John Heirs. He has taken three classes with Mr. Heirs: Horticulture Science, Forestry Science, and Advanced Agricultural Studies.

“It is only once in a while that an extraordinary student like Curtis comes along,” said Mr. Heirs. “He is very passionate about agricultural and environment issues…He has [been] and continues to be active in solving issues surrounding land pressures on farm preservation in our state.”

Lessard received the Land Stewards Award and the $250 prize earlier this month from Donna Foster of the Vermont Land Trust.

Since the age of 10, Curtis 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.

Lessard 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.

Lessard 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.

Photo courtesy of Vermont Land Trust

Austin Turco of Mount Holly received the Land Stewards Award and a prize of $250 at his school’s awards ceremony.

Photo courtesy of Vermont Land Trust

Curtis Lessard of Woodstock received the Land Stewards Award and the $250 prize from Donna Foster.

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