Walton agriculture club leader earns statewide honor

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May 13—Beth Howland, a counselor at Walton's Townsend Elementary School, will receive an honorary Empire Degree at the FFA's annual convention on Saturday, May 14.

Walton FFA Advisor Vanessa Merrill-Wickham said she asked students if they wanted to nominate anyone for the award and "they all said Mrs. Howland. She's our all-around cheerleader and the Ag Club advisor at Townsend Elementary School. We surprised her. She is someone who would have said she didn't deserve the honor. We did in secrecy."

Merrill-Wickham said the Ag Club is for students in third through fifth grades. It meets once a month after school and Howland volunteers her time to run the club. She said the club just finished a unit on hydroponic farming and students have a raised garden at the school. Students have also been able to go on field trips, including on a maple tour.

FFA was formerly known as Future Farmers of America until shortening its name to FFA in 1988.

In addition to advising elementary school students, Howland helps FFA members practice for competition and helps them with other projects.

"Whenever I need help, she's there for me," Merrill-Wickham said.

Merrill-Wickham said the Empire Degree is the highest award an FFA member can earn at the state level. According to the FFA website, in order to earn the Empire Degree, a FFA member has to be an active member in a local chapter for at least two years, earn the Chapter FFA Degree, take agricultural courses at the school, demonstrate leadership, complete a supervised agricultural experience program, plan club activities, participate in five activities above the chapter level and complete 25 hours of community service outside the FFA chapter.

"It's an elite group of kids," Merrill-Wickham said.

Each chapter can also nominate someone to receive an honorary award. According to a media release, Walton chapter officers helped Merrill-Wickham put together an application, which included a video and writeup.

Merrill-Wickham said Howland's sons and husband all received the Empire Degree while they were FFA members.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_VickyK on Twitter.