The Altona Flat Rock property is most famous locally for the abundance of wild blueberries that have grown there for generations. The blueberries were so plentiful that local families would camp on the property during the six-week blueberry season and sell berries to help provide for their families. The property is also well-known because of the prevalence of jack pine there. Jack pine is a species whose cones remain rock-hard until the heat of a forest fire opens them, facilitating regeneration. Both blueberries and jack pine benefit from the re-growth that occurs after a fire.
In July 2018, a fire burned 550 acres of the 15-square-mile Flat Rock property. It was the first “meaningful” fire in 60 years. For scientists and students at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science, it was a once-in-a-lifetime research opportunity.
“I’ve been awaiting an ecologically significant fire at Flat Rock since my introduction to the pine barren in 1974,” Dr. Ken Adams, a retired SUNY Plattsburgh professor of forest ecology said in a December 2018 interview with Adirondack Explorer. “Forests are more than trees, so it’s important to understand the effects of fire on all components of a forest ecosystem, including soils, vegetation, and wildlife habitat,” Adams said. Adams was a professor in the Applied Environmental Science Program (AESP) – a collaboration between Miner Institute and SUNY Plattsburgh – for decades.
Michala Hendrick was an AESP student in 2019. Under the direction of Dr. Danielle Garneau, a wildlife ecologist at SUNY Plattsburgh, Hendrick conducted a study focusing on the small mammal community composition, abundance, and foraging patterns in the burned and unburned portions of the Flat Rock State Forest. Data were collected in fall 2018 and fall 2019. “My data collection consisted of preparing and setting Sherman live traps in the evening and retrieving them in the early morning,” Hendrick explained. “This gave us a look at differences in abundance in the burned and control area.” Hendrick said that she used Giving Up Density (GUD) surveys to learn about foraging patterns across the two sites. Seeds mixed with sand were placed in an enclosed box with a tube for animal access. After 48 hours, the seeds were weighed to determine density loss to evaluate consumption vs. potentially high risk (predator/open) habitat.
“Almost nothing about this research was easy. It was labor intensive, time-consuming and the weather was frequently working against us,” Hendrick said. “Despite these challenges, I grew professionally and personally from these experiences… This work was rewarding and I’ve now captured and released over 100 small mammals which is an incredibly unique experience for an undergraduate student. In addition, the Altona Flat Rock is a valued, globally-rare habitat that amplifies the importance of the research students and staff are conducting there.”
Hendrick, along with several other students and SUNY Plattsburgh professors participated in collaborative interdisciplinary research which was showcased in a Flat Rock Fire Conference at Miner Institute in September 2019. The conference was a collaboration between Miner Institute, SUNY Plattsburgh, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and The North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange. Students were able to present posters and discuss the research conducted at Flat Rock since the fire.
Hendrick plans to begin graduate school this month. She will be working toward a Masters of Science in Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Her graduate assistantship is funded through the National Park Service and the Old Dominion University Research Foundation. Her research will focus on visitor use management in various parks in the National Capitol Parks Region.
Fred Rogers, who hosted the popular PBS children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for more than 30 years, is known to have said that when he was a child and saw scary things in the news, his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Finding the helpers, and more importantly, being the helpers, is certainly one way that many people are getting through the current coronavirus pandemic.
At Miner Institute, we have built an impressive community of staff and students who time and time again step up to the plate to do what needs to be done for the Institute, but also are willing to help the broader community.
A number of Miner staff are still working regular schedules caring for the animals and the facility and several staff members have had to adapt to virtual teaching schedules to continue our Advanced Dairy Management semester remotely.
Additionally, several staff members have pulled out their sewing machines and have been making masks to donate to organizations locally who need them. Residents of the Miner housing complex teamed up to pick up trash along Ridge Road while also practicing social distancing. And staff and their families are coming up with creative ways to make quarantine fun. Research Team Member Maggie Carter is hosting themed dinner nights at her house. She has done Royal dinner with maple glazed pork chops and twice baked potatoes; western dinner with chili; IHOP dinner with pancakes, crepes, bacon and sausage; fair dinner with hamburgers, fries in paper cups and milkshakes. Her family even sometimes dresses up to match the theme!
William and Alice Miner were steadfast in their support of the North Country and their philanthropic work continues to benefit the region 90 years after William Miner's death. In our efforts to carry on the Miner legacy, we are brainstorming ways to continue making a difference in both the agricultural community and the North Country community.
Be safe and well!
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic that we currently find ourselves in, it seems like William Miner's words from 1915 have never been truer. "No other occupation is so vitally important to the human race, nor requires such a wide range of practical and technical knowledge, as farming."
The production of safe, healthy food is essential and even during a pandemic where people around the North Country, New York State, and the world, are being urged to stay home to slow the spread of this virus, cows still need to be milked, crops need to be harvested, animals need to be fed, and food products need to be made available to consumers.
At Miner Institute, dairy, maintenance, equine, and research staff have been carrying on their regular schedules caring for the buildings and animals and making sure that our cows continue to be milked three times a day.
Shaun Castine said that things aren’t really much different for him milking cows. He said he isn’t a big fan of crowds anyway, so the social distancing part isn’t especially hard for him. ShyAnne Koehler agreed that things aren’t vastly different for her either. She typically works mostly by herself this time of year caring for the Miner Morgans, or alongside Karen Lassell.
Dan Belrose from the maintenance department said that they are carrying on much like usual, although they are disinfecting trucks multiple times per day and doing the same in the breakroom. In addition, the team is trying to keep several feet of distance between each other and other staff members.
One of the biggest differences is that the Institute is pretty quiet. On any average weekday, staff and students congregate over lunch in the Miner cafeteria, which is currently closed. It is an epicenter of social activity, where the lunchtime conversations really run the gamut! Undoubtedly one of the most notable differences for staff still at Miner is the need to pack a lunch every day.
Much of Miner Institute staff are working remotely from home, but are not lacking in gratitude for the teammates who are still making it to work everyday and keeping the Institute going. Few organizations are fortunate enough to have such a skilled, dedicated staff that believe in the mission and are willing to go the extra mile to do what needs to be done. Our staff genuinely care for the animals, the students, the research, the mission. Even when so much seems so very uncertain, we can be sure that we will make it through this.
For the second year in a row, Miner Institute and The Alice T. Miner Museum helped to ensure that area school kids weren't too bored during their winter break by offering a Beat the Boredom program. The event was held on Feb. 20 at The Alice and Feb. 21 at the Institute.
News Channel 5 Reporter Jackie Pascale came to both locations for live interviews to promote the program during the 5 am to 7 am newscast on Feb. 20.
The program at The Alice featured craft projects using silhouettes, optical illusions, and sun photography. There were more than 20 kids who attended and they all seemed to have a great time!
Those who attended the program at the Institute were able to make a bird feeder with Point Au Roche State Park Naturalist Kristin Collins; make 30-minute mozzarella cheese with Director of Lab Studies Steve Kramer; play corn hole; and do a scavenger hunt around the BERC building where they got to eat Cabot cheese, learn about dairy cow feeds, learn about how we use cannulated cows in our research program, play pin the tail on the horse, and sit on an English or Western saddle! We had around 30 kids who attended and a great time was had!! We certainly will plan a 3rd Annual Beat the Boredom program in collaboration with The Alice in 2021!
As we gear up for another Open House this summer on August 8, it is hard not to take a moment to reflect on the phenomenal team we have here at Miner. Across all departments, there is collaboration and cohesion and a genuine willingness to pitch in to help Miner Institute to thrive.
In addition to having a mission that employees feel passionate about, we have a great company culture at Miner Institute, and honestly that is almost as important as the mission. We work hard to create a workplace that is supportive and accommodating. A good company culture promotes employee morale; and happy employees are more productive and motivated, and more pleasant to work with!
Everyday we try to embody the values and vision of William Miner. Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) in Plattsburgh applies Miner’s philosophy of “uniting head, hands, and heart” to its approach to medicine; in many ways we implement a similar approach here at the Institute. Our staff and students, through research and education are able to demonstrate best management practices for agriculture and environmental stewardship. As an organization, we also endorse giving back to the community and encourage staff involvement in charitable events.
To put it simply, Miner Institute is a fantastic place to work and to visit.
Here are a few stats from the 2019 report to the Board of Trustees:
At Miner Institute, the research we do has important implications for the community as agriculture accounts for 17% of the land use in the Lake Champlain Basin. Our research has a societal benefit as we look at the intersection between agriculture and the environment, where water quality and health of the ecosystem meet agriculture production for commodities we all enjoy and consume. The research fields for my graduate research are planted with corn for silage, which is the most common source of forage for dairy cattle in the North East. The fields have poorly-drained soils, like much of the soils in the Lake Champlain Watershed, and require drainage improvements. Drainage improvements can be a combination of surface and subsurface improvements. My research focuses on two fields, one that is tile drained and another that is undrained. Tile drainage is a type of drainage that removes water from below the soil surface and can help maximize yields and improve field trafficability. The fields are monitored year-round for nutrient loading in surface and tile drainage. The nutrients, nitrogen, and phosphorus have important implications for water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin, so it is essential to monitor the fields. As the climate changes, we may have more intense rainfall events, and it is crucial to understand where that water is going and what nutrients are being transported.
Back in November, I presented a poster on my research at the tri-society meeting (American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America) in San Antonio, TX. The conference attracted nearly 4000 attendees, including scientists, researchers, and students. My poster concentrated on phosphorus and nitrogen exports from the fields since the study began in March 2018, which is part of my thesis. The objective of the poster was to evaluate the impacts of tile drainage on-field hydrology and edge-of-field nutrient export from fields managed as corn for silage. I really enjoyed hearing presentations from researchers' work that I have read. Information ranged from forest soils to remote sensing, wetland information, cold weather implications, and tile drainage.
Student posters at the conference were judged on quality of presentation, originality of the work, and interpretation of the experimental results. In the Soil & Water Management & Conservation Division, my poster was among 20 other posters from students around the country. It earned a first place ranking for the division! Following the completion of my master's degree in late 2020, I hope to continue working in the environmental water quality field. I would love to have a job where I am working with society and the environment, ensuring a healthy and productive ecosystem.
-- Leanna Thalmann
On Saturday, Sept. 28 we packed up the Miner van with people, snacks, and a cow costume and headed south to Plattsburgh for the Fourth Annual ETS Charity Kickball Tournament. This marks the second year that Miner Institute has entered a team. Although it was a bit cloudy and at times pretty rainy, the overall consensus was that it was a lot of fun! The Miner Threat team -- Sarah Morrison, Laura Klaiber, Mark Haney, Adam LaCount, Dan Belrose, Jared Ashline, Lisa Klaiber, ShyAnne Koehler, Ashton Nelson, and Bruno Franco -- played four games in total, but ultimately the Plattco Hessian Soldiers outplayed us 1-0 in back-to-back games and went on to win the division. All of the proceeds raised --$3000 in 2019 -- go to charity. This year, $1000 was donated to the United Way of the Adirondack Region, $1000 was donated to the Elmore SPCA, and $1000 was donated to the Make a Wish Foundation. Each year, proceeds go to the United Way and then the winning teams get to choose a charity to donate remaining funds to. This year's tournament featured a competitive and a fun division. Plattco won the fun division and UPS won the competitive division.
Smiles were plentiful and everyone who participated had a great time. We are grateful that ETS had the vision and the aptitude to organize this tournament and allow us to help the community while building our team and honestly having a ton of fun! We are aiming our sights high for 2020 as we want to be crowned kickball champs and determine which deserving charity will get a financial boost!
The multitude of different projects, new skills practiced and corners that he’s maintained and/or renovated in the past 35 years around Miner Institute is part of what has kept things “fresh and interesting,” Steve Fessette said of his time at Miner.
After more than 38 years at Miner Institute – 21 of them as the director of physical plant – Steve is readying himself for retirement. He will wrap up his maintenance department tenure at the end of 2019. Mike Lemza will take over the helm. Mike was hired in January and has been learning the ropes and leading the maintenance team since the start of the year. Miner Institute is “a great place to be,” Mike said. Mike ran a pallet company in Keeseville for nearly 20 years before coming to Miner Institute. He purchased the company in 1996, expanded it in 2011, and then sold it in 2015. At one point, his business had 22 employees, he said.
The maintenance department at Miner Institute maintains around 35 buildings around the property including exterior, windows, mechanicals, painting, HVAC, heating systems, plumbing, electrical, etc. “That’s where our crew become the jack of all trades and master of none,” Steve joked referring to the diversity of skills and knowledge that keeps the Institute operating day in and day out.
The team consists of four maintenance staff members in addition to Steve and Mike – Dan Belrose, Mark Gonyo, Jared Ashline, and Adam LaCount – who work out of the maintenance shop, one of the original Heart’s Delight Farm buildings, though it was under construction at the time of William Miner’s death and not completed until the following year in 1931. Custodial staff members – Brian Bechard, David Boulerice, and Gary Morrison – round out the crew, but work primarily at the Burke Education and Research Center, or the “college” side of the Institute. Brian’s time at Miner Institute started just a few months ahead of Steve in 1981, though he spent a few years in the dairy barn before moving to the maintenance team. He just retired at the end of August.
Steve says that he is proud of how the maintenance team has developed an ownership mentality here. They all feel invested in Miner and its facilities. “You can really tell they care about this place,” Mike added. Each day starts with a morning briefing which promotes good communication. “Everyone knows where everyone’s working. Everyone knows what’s going on,” Steve said.
Steve is proud of how Miner Institute has evolved over the past 38 years. The staff size has grown, there are more facilities, more roads, and more maintenance needs. The one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the size of the maintenance team. That really speaks to the skills of the team. “They are very efficient and get things done,” Steve said. Back in the 1980s, Steve recalled that the Institute had a “territorial sentiment.” Members of the maintenance staff had a designated region of the Institute where they worked and you didn’t cross into another person’s area. If you worked in the barn area at that time, you rarely ever went into the education building because it wasn’t your area. “We’ve opened doors and we’re crossing lines and it’s so much better.”
Gary has been working with Brian and will take over his role beginning in September. Brian said that he’s “been doing it for so many years, its automatic.” Brian really is like a well-oiled machine and is meticulous about most everything. He knows the ins and outs of not only the BERC building and the residential housing complex, but the acres of lawn and fields around the property. Brian said he isn’t sure what he will be doing in retirement, but with a relatively new RV and a new snowmobile on the way, he probably won’t have a hard time finding something to do.
Steve plans to travel and spend more time with his family, especially his granddaughter after he retires. He said that he will miss being part of the “ever-changing institute.” The Miner team is a good one, and the maintenance team in particular will be missed, he said. “Every day is something new with projects and people always changing.”
Together, Mike and Steve are overseeing the dairy barn expansion and the installation of a new manure lagoon prior to Steve’s departure. Steve will maintain his involvement in the Miner legacy by continuing to do maintenance at the Alice T Miner Museum as well as the Miner chapel and mausoleum in Riverview Cemetery. Steve also serves on the board of the Alice T. Miner Museum.
Each year, more than 3,200 agricultural fairs are held around the country. The Clinton County Fair has been offering summer fun and a glimpse of agriculture for local residents for more than seven decades. The 71st annual Clinton County Fair recently wrapped up and Miner Institute was well represented.
In the open show dairy barn, Miner Institute had four milking cows and five young animals. We also had two young heifers in the 4H barn that were shown by Alexis Seymour. Students train their animals and break them in to a halter; then clip, wash and care for their animals at the fair.
Eight Miner Morgans made their way to the Morrisonville fairgrounds. They showed in the Morgan In-Hand class and a yearling and two-year-old halter class. They were on the fairgrounds for four days for visitors to see and learn about the Morgan breed. An extra stall was set up with a great display of the equine program at Miner Institute and even included a photo booth! The students did a great job keeping the space clean and the horses cool and comfortable.
Additionally, a handful of Miner Institute employees take vacation time during fair week so that they can represent their own family farms and/or cheer on their children who show at the fair. There also is a "friendly" annual burger competition. This year entries included burgers with meat from the Emerichs, Gauthiers, Castines, and pork from the Dann/Perkins family. The judges were three Clinton County sheriff deputies.
Dorado Jerseys and Angus – The Emerich family
Wanda Emerich has been showing at the fair since 1983. She brought five Jersey cows from her family’s Dorado Jerseys and Angus farm to the Clinton County Fair and they competed in the Open Dairy Show. The Emerich’s animals are located adjacent to Miner Institute’s animals. Back on the farm in Mooers, Wanda and her husband, Jerry and daughter, Katarina, have Black Angus, an assortment of chickens, cats, African geese, and a dog. Wanda said that she really enjoys interacting with the numerous families who have also been showing at the fair over the years. “We have watched each other’s kids grow up and tell stories about show cows and heifers over time. People work together to prepare the animals for the show, then compete together in the ring and celebrate with each other after the show has ended.”
Mineral Spring Farm – The Gauthier family
Heather Gauthier’s farm in Mooers has Black Angus, White Park and crossbred beef cattle, and Alpine, Nubian and crossbred dairy goats. They brought one summer yearling Angus heifer; two 3-yr lactating does; one 2-yr lactating doe; and three four-month-old doe kids to the fair this year. Heather’s children, Eli and Aubrey also leased two 10-week-old meat goat kids from another 4H leader. Eli and Aubrey Gauthier are members of the 4H Milk Dipper club. Eli showed in the 4H dairy goat show, the 4H/Open meat goat show, the 4H/Open beef show, and assisted Ava Castine in the FFA beef show. Aubrey showed in 4H dairy goat show, 4H/Open meat goat show, 4H/Open beef show, and assisted Lincoln Perkins in the 4H pig show, and assisted another club member in the open dairy show. Mineral Spring Farm’s two-year-old lactating doe was awarded best in breed in the dairy goat show. “The fair was mostly a sweaty whirlwind, but we are part of a great group of kids and parents in the club that we are with as well as the whole crew in the 4H barn,” Heather said. “We became sort of a pit crew for almost every livestock show division… prep the animal, dress the kids, shine them all up and go! I think overall we all had a great time and the smiles on the kids’ faces tell it all! All the stress and prep and planning is worth it when now, two weeks later the kids are complaining wishing it was still fair week and making plans for what to show next year!”
Castiron Acres – The Castine family
Shaun Castine took a week of vacation from milking cows in Miner Institute’s barn to show his beef cows at the fair. Eleven of Castiron Acres purebred Hereford animals were shown as part of the 4H and FFA shows. Shaun prefers to let his daughter, Ava, 11, do the showing, but says if he has to, he’ll get in the show ring too. Ava really enjoys it, and has “really been working hard,” Shaun said. Shaun’s wife, Emily, is the 4H leader for the Milk Dippers club. Ava earned master showman for the 4H show and reserve master showman for the FFA show, Shaun said. One of their heifers earned reserve champion status and a yearling earned a champion status. Shaun said that his family looks forward to the fair every year and plan to also show at the Malone fair and at a show in Westport. He hopes to eventually take some Castiron Acres animals to the New York State Fair in Syracuse.
Jem Farm, Tangled Reins 4H Club – Dan and Georgia Belrose
Dan Belrose’s daughter, Georgia, has been showing at the Clinton County Fair for four years as part of the Tangled Reins 4H Club, showing horses from Larry and Donna Sorrell’s Jem Farm in Champlain. Dan says that Georgia absolutely loves it. Dan’s role during fair week, in addition to cheering on Georgia, is to wipe down saddles and equipment, muck stalls, spray the horses with fly spray, and act as a personal assistant to Georgia, making sure that she has everything she needs and gets where she needs to be at the right time. “It makes for a long week,” Dan said. “But the kids love it.” Georgia shows a horse and a pony this year and participated in the 4H show on Wednesday and Thursday and then in the open show on Friday and Saturday. She will be representing Clinton County in the 4H show at the NY State Fair in Syracuse for the third year in 2019.
Brightside Farm – Heather Dann and Lincoln Perkins
Heather Dann and her son, Lincoln Perkins, brought three pigs to the fair – Mr. Squealer, Susan, and Apey. They seemed to be the only pigs at this year’s fair. Lincoln showed Susan, who won as champion market hog. Aubrey Gauthier showed Mr. Squealer. The pigs all enjoyed the attention given to them at the fair and liked being pet by visitors. Susan, Mr. Squealer, and Apey entertained fair visitors by playing with a blue Jolly ball and a red Kong Frisbee. Heather said she was surprised by how much attention her pigs got. People enjoyed watching and interacting with the pigs, even stopping to take selfies and videos with the pigs. In addition, Lincoln showed a meat goat kid leased from Valerie Bertholf in West Chazy; and a dairy goat kid leased from Heather Gauthier. Heather said that Lincoln enjoyed showing and cuddling with the goats.
An expansion of the dairy barn to better accommodate our research program is underway! The research side of the barn will be more than doubled as an additional 40,000 square feet will be added to the south side of the barn. The addition is 291 feet long. The job has been awarded to Fuller Excavating, who will hopefully begin construction in August.
Site prep has been ongoing for several months, beginning with tree removal in early spring. Nearly 8000 cubic yards of gravel was pulled from the hill across from the Miner powerhouse on Ridge Road and used for base material at the construction site. It is estimated that this saved more than $30,000 since we did not need to purchase and haul from another quarry.