What happens when you take a club committed to serving their community, a passionate teacher, a good piece of land and the partnership and sponsorship of many local businesses? Magic. Or more specifically a fantastic project that teaches young people agricultural skills, provides fresh produce to local markets and acts as a fundraiser to benefit the local community.
The Chesley Kinsmen Crop Project uses farmland to grow a variety of crops with some of the input costs being donated by local businesses and most of the sale of the crop harvest being donated to the Chesley Kinsmen Club, which ultimately serves the local community.
In 2006 Dennis Watson, a local farmer and the high school teacher who implemented the agriculture program at the local high school, arranged a meeting with Chesley Kinsmen and landowner Peter McElwain and Chesley Kinsmen life member Bill Gardhouse to discuss the crop project idea. After a couple of years of negotiations, the first planting took place in the spring of 2008 on 20 acres of donated land owned by Peter McElwain and his wife Carol Beaton.
Under Mr. Watson's guidance, the agricultural students use the donated land at the north end of Chesley to learn soil science, seed selection, planting techniques and crop scouting. Fellow Kinsmen, Bill Gardhouse, arranges for the seeding, fertilizing and pesticides. Local farmers, Aaron and Paul Legge, look after the planting and combining of the crop, which switches back and forth from corn to soybeans.
The Specialist High Skills Major program is unique to any high school in Ontario and it was the first of its kind in the province. It is a 4 credit program where the students learn animal health, care and nutrition, crop science and agricultural business. It is open to all grade 11 and 12 high school students in the Bluewater District School Board and the Bruce-Grey Catholic Board. Today there are approximately 30 agricultural programs available in Ontario high schools but most of them focus on horticulture and landscaping and less on animal and crop science. More than half of the graduating students of this program have gone on to college or university agricultural programs.
The program runs during the second semester and students receive four agriculture major course credits. Three other required credits (English, math and science) are taken at the student’s home school and two cooperative education credits are needed to complete the program. Students also had to complete three compulsory certification courses and three electives. The compulsory courses include CPR, standard first aid and WHMIS. Electives are chosen from a number of possible courses, including animal first aid, basic electrical safety, infection control, chainsaw safety, nutrient management, fundamentals of the combine, livestock medicine, working at heights, etc.
Rubber boots and coveralls are often required in the field classrooms when handling farm animals and walking the land. For some, this is their first introduction to careers and lifestyles in rural living. Some of the students are already experts in their field having grown up on local farms and they provide valuable input and assistance to their non-rural classmates during class sessions.
Some of the profits from the crop project were given back to the Chesley High School agricultural program. The Chesley Kinsmen funded their maple syrup evaporator, field trips and grants for continuing education in the agricultural field.
In 2017 the Blue Water Board of Education decided to close Chesley High School. This could have been the end of the agricultural program at Chesley District Community School, but the Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) trustees voted to allow the BWDSB Agriculture Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program to continue at Chesley's K-8 public school as a satellite campus of Owen Sound District Secondary School. The school has its own barn which houses a variety of farm animals, a greenhouse, a garden and a maple sugar bush. Produce grown is sold at the nearby Keady Farmer's Market. Sale proceeds help purchase the next year’s animals. The students care for the animals and gardens during weekends and over the summer. Farming is 24/7/365.
In 2019 the farm field was tiled to increase crop production with improved irrigation and drainage. No crop was planted. Notes were taken.
In 2020 almost all of the planned Chesley Kinsmen fundraising projects had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crop project was the only event that could safely go forward and still benefit the local community. COVID-19 did not allow the students to continue their work in the field at McElwain's farm this spring, however, the Chesley Kinsmen decided to keep the tradition alive and took it upon themselves to have the field planted with corn without the student's help. So far the 2020 crop looks good.
The club gives special recognition and heartfelt thanks to all of their many sponsors and contributors that have loyally supported this worthy Chesley Kinsmen fundraising project.
The Kin motto is to “serve the community’s greatest need”. What that need is looks different in every community where Kin Canada has a club, however, the commitment and passion of Kin members is present in all of our communities.