Growing up in southern Vermont, Ian Blackmer’s playground was always the woods around his home and in his town. It was in those woods that he learned about identifying trees, tracking wildlife, fishing, logging, sugaring, and feeling at peace in a natural setting. This became a real basis for his love of the land, and this has developed into a life-long commitment and passion for carefully managing natural resources for the future. If you combine this experience with the fact that he comes from a family of educators, then you can see why teaching Diversified Agriculture and Natural Resources at River Bend Career and Technical Center is a natural evolution!
After high school, Ian enrolled at the University of Vermont (UVM) in the Forestry and Natural Resources program. In his second year, however, he transferred his major to UVM’s Agriculture Education program, feeling that he might really like to teach others what he was learning about managing the land. He continued his education at the State University of New York at Cobleskill (SUNY) and earned a degree in Agricultural and Industrial Mechanics, giving him a solid mechanical background, as well as his understanding of the science of natural resources management.
Teaching, after SUNY, however, took a backburner spot in Ian’s life, as he spent the next twenty years working in construction and in the Vermont ski industry. Toward the end of his ski area work, Ian came to the realization that he needed a more meaningful career direction in his life. Teaching others seemed to be pulling at him, and it just so happened that a position opened at the Randolph Technical Career Center in Randolph, VT. Ian became the Agricultural Mechanics instructor at the Center, which also included welding, fabrication and work with alternative energy sources. It was at this point that Ian knew teaching was the place he needed to be!
While at the Center in Randolph, Ian and his family started a small “market farm” on their land, something that Ian looked at as a form of “homesteading”. The farm grew and eventually Ian was faced with a decision of either being a full-time farmer, or a full-time agriculture teacher. He stepped away from teaching and for over a year, went into farming full-time; but during that time he found that he greatly missed teaching students about natural resources and agriculture. It so happened that both of Ian’s daughters, after receiving their college degrees, had found their way into the agriculture field, both becoming very active in the Vermont local food movement. The Diversified Agriculture and Natural Resources teaching position at River Bend Career and Technical Center became available in 2017. Ian applied and got the job. This would not have been possible without transitioning the management of the farm to one of his daughters, thus giving him the opportunity to return to teaching full-time, something that he truly loves!
In addition to exposing students to the natural environment through his curriculum, which is really the highlight of his teaching, Ian enjoys art, gardening, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and fishing.
The program has benefited from grant funding allowing the purchase of a new portable sawmill, additions to the sugar house, and blacksmithing equipment. He has been able to create great relationships for his students with places like: Root 5 Farm, UVM Extension, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and the people at Northern Woodlands, to name a few. Ian is very appreciative for the support of local community members, as well as state-wide agriculture and natural resources focused organizations.
Students in Ian’s program qualify for industry-recognized standards such as Level 1 and 2 of the nationally known “Game of Logging”; the OSHA10 safety certification, Wilderness First Aid, CPR, and Vermont Trapper and Bow Safety. Students acquire skills related to maple production, logging, plant identification, soil conservation, wildlife management, vegetable and fruit production, tree pruning, welding fabrication and equipment operation. Those students in his program who have gone on to post-secondary education have been attending schools such as: White Mountain Community College, Vermont Technical College, UVM, Paul Smith’s College and Unity College. Some students go to work in the agriculture community right from the program. The opportunities are limitless with training and education, opening up fields such as biology; game warden; farm technician; small business owner; extension agent; forester; or greenhouse operator, to name a few.
One theme that permeates all that takes place in Ian’s classes is a respect for the natural environment, always striving to leave the land better than it was found for the love and use of generations to come!