SMC ag students join conservation conversation
Three Southwestern Michigan College agriculture students and two faculty members attended the inaugural meeting of CORE (Conserving Our Rural Environment), to join the conservation collaboration conversation organized by the several Cass County commissioners and Pheasants Forever wildlife habitat restoration and preservation.
Shelby Pruett and Faith Corbiel major in agricultural operations through Michigan State University at SMC.
Nike Fox studies fruit and vegetable crop management intending to transfer to Central Michigan University’s fermentation sciences program and become a brewer.
Stacey Rocklin, MSU’s SMC coordinator, said, “They’re all first-year students because this is a brand-new program. We have an ag club that’s just getting started, so we’re looking for projects.”
Since Pheasants Forever, established in 1998, sponsors an SMC scholarship,
SMC students are expected to assist with its Youth Pollinator Habitat Program.
Deirdre Kurtis, SMC environmental science professor, on behalf of 150-200 SMC students annually, said, “I’m also here to figure out how we can get involved.”
Another potential project would be reviving Cass County Conservation District’s (CCCD) day at a county park for fifth graders.
“Start with youth and they teach their parents,” CCCD Administrator Justin Miller, an SMC alumnus who steps down in March, said.
“I like your ideas about having a conservation expo and getting youth involved,” Pruett said. “I was born here, but lived in Florida. It was a fun day away from the books to see animals — we adopted a manatee — what snakes are poisonous and educating us on how we can better the environment around us. I think that’s a good idea to bring to this community because I thought it was fun when I was younger. It really got me into the environment and, now that I’m older, agriculture. We have an online MSU class on water management. We’d love to have someone come in and talk to us and help us better understand our education.”
Blossom queens could be exposed to grasses grown for habitat while kissing pigs at Robinson Farm on Decatur Road.
“The girls are interested in animals,” Cass County Farm Bureau President Dan Stutsman of Edwardsburg said. “Farm Bureau puts out two $1,000 grants — $500 per semester — that are available for SMC’s ag program. We want young people involved in our programs.”
CORE (casscountycore.org) is a centralized information source connecting many different organizations and government agencies — each involved in helping protect, preserve, improve and promote Cass County’s natural beauty.
The summit conference convened at Cass County Council on Aging Feb. 12 involved Jeremy Reiman of the St. Joseph River Basin Commission studying Cass County’s Cobus Creek; Simeon Paulson of Camp Friedenswald in Porter Township; Drain Commissioner Bruce Campbell; MSU Extension 4-H Program Coordinator for 800 youths and 200 volunteers Stephanie Consford; Parks Director Scott Wyman, whose department manages 900 acres, including Dodd Park on the Dowagiac River, Russ Forest between Dowagiac and Marcellus and Dr. Lawless Park southeast of Vandalia; Pokagon Band Natural Resources Department Director Dr. Jennifer Kanine, whose group manages 6,400 acres in four Michigan counties and six Indiana counties; CCCD board member Jeff Blyveis; Cass County Pheasants Forever Chapter President Jeff Nelson; Brian Gunderman of the 24-county Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division; Marty Eby of the Michiana Beekeepers Association; County Commissioner Roseann Marchetti; Matt Meersman of South Bend, president of the 15-county Friends of the St. Joe River in Michigan and Indiana and watershed coordinator for the Van Buren Conservation District; Grant Poole, Pokagon Band DNR water quality specialist; Vic Bogosian, Pokagon Band DNR natural resources manager; District Conservationist Frank Velazquez of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Cassopolis; Dowagiac Daily News Community Editor Ted Yoakum; Dave Allen and Angie Edge of 12-county Midwest Energy Cooperative for Michigan, Indiana and Ohio; Kenneth Kesson, Michigan DNR wildlife biologist for 26 counties; Cass County Road Commission Chairman Pete Fournier; Beth Clawson, MSU Extension statewide water quality educator; Eileen Toney, SMC Foundation executive director; Marcy Colclough, Southwestern Michigan Planning Commission; and Ryan Simpson of Kinexus, the tri-county workforce board.
“This conversation started a year ago with Commissioner Annie File and me wanting to plant wildflowers like Lady Bird Johnson did in Texas. We invited about 10 and this is who showed up,” undeterred by lake-effect snow and a winter weather advisory.
“We are hoping that by supporting a collaboration of like-minded groups and individuals,” Chair Bernie Williamson said, “we can identify common objectives, focus the power of many and help you all achieve your shared goals.”
From an economic development perspective, “We’re not going to build a factory for 6,000 people,” said Fournier, who retired here after 37 years in Arizona. “But we can bring people in to experience the beauty and recreation, creating restaurant and other jobs.”
About Southwestern Michigan College
Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter, community college, founded in 1964. The college averages in the top 10 percent nationally for student academic success based upon the National Community College Benchmark Project. Southwestern Michigan College strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services to meet the needs of students, and to serve our community. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.