BELFAST — A student at Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education is going to Washington, D.C., in March for an agricultural summit after completing a 4-H program through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Mia Fay, 17, attended a 4-H Agricultural Leadership Program in November and December and was encouraged to apply for the National 4-H Youth Summit on Agri-Science in Washington, which she will attend, she said.

She will sit in on a series of workshops on the challenges facing agriculture sustainability and food security, and will develop skills and knowledge to face these problems that she can bring back to her community and initiate an action plan of her own.

When Mia was considering applying for the summit, BCOPE science teacher and garden coordinator Lindsey Schortz encouraged her to do it. Mia had to submit several short essays on various topics and a letter of recommendation, which Schortz provided. She also encouraged the student to join the two-month 4-H program.

“What I like about it is she’s going to learn a lot she can bring back to our program,”  Schortz said. The teacher hopes Mia will also share what she learns with younger students in the district. “And just her enthusiasm is really great …,” she added.

Mia discovered a passion for fungus in the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Program, she said. Yeast, molds and mushrooms are some examples of fungus, according to Merriam-Webster. Humans use them for various purposes in medicines and for other needs, she said.

“We don’t have enough time to learn all of the things that fungi and mushrooms can do,” she said.

Looking ahead, Mia hopes to research fungi and entomology, she said. “How plants and animals live in a symbiotic relationship and how they communicate to each other — it’s very interesting,” she said.

She is also interested in biomimicry and how it can help humans solve agricultural problems without using synthetic products that can be bad for the environment, she said. Biomimicry is mimicking animal and plant behavior to solve human problems.

When Schortz learned about the 4-H Agricultural Leadership Ambassador Program last fall, she thought it would be a good fit for Mia because of her interest in agriculture. “It was an easy connection to make,” she said.

The program was developed to fill a void in some high schools where there is not much focus on agricultural education, she said. The UMaine Extension 4-H provides agriculture education and leadership experience to Maine teens from 14 to 18, according to the UMaine website.

Throughout the program during the months of November and December 2021, Mia attended weekly conferences that exposed her and other attendees to various speakers sand topics, as well as a field trip to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory. Schortz hopes Mia’s participation will encourage other students to take part in the program in the future.

“I thought it was really brave of Mia to take the risk, because I think it’s hard to step out of your comfort zone,” she said. “This is a pilot series for 4-H, but I’m hoping because she took the risk other students of mine will try out the series, too, in the future.”

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