It’s a cool, bright Monday morning when we pull into the Mains family driveway in Cumberland County. All around us are rolling hills and aging farm buildings with their foundations deep in the earth, built a long time ago but standing firmly all the same. The grass is green and the farmhouse is white. It’s a picturesque, typical Pennsylvania Farm – whatever you just imagined when you read those words, that’s the view around us. Like it came straight off a postcard.
But the members of the Mains family represent so much more than their idyllic set of pastures.
We’re instantly invited to sit down and get comfortable in Shelva Mains’ kitchen, at the table with a barnyard-themed cloth spread that I’m sure the family has gathered around many times.
Before I can even start writing or recording our conversation, Wendy Gump, one of Shelva’s daughters, is already telling us stories about her father, Richard Mains. Wendy works part-time as a teacher on the Foundation’s Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab and does it in her father’s memory. She works on the lab that serves the region where the program first started. It’s the lab that bears her dad’s name. “I remember Dad making a comment to me about, ‘These kids today think food comes from a grocery store!’ He wanted them to realize that it actually goes back through a process, that it actually starts on a farm.”
Richard Mains, Sr., Joe Musser, and Marlin Miller – all from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau – were inspired after seeing Maryland’s mobile labs and instantly became dedicated to starting a program in Pennsylvania. It started with just one lab, one teacher, and a lot of love. Today, the Mobile Agriculture Education Program serves more than 100,000 students per year, with six different labs and a host of teachers across the state.
After a few minutes, we’re joined at Shelva’s table by another Mains daughter, Sheree Clelan, and son, Richard Mains Jr., who likes to go by “Rick.”
Now all together, with only one daughter, Terry Bear, missing from the table because she couldn’t attend the interview, the family is fast to talk about their father’s dedication to the Foundation. When asked about the reason for Richard’s initial support, Rick says, “For educating the children. He was always big about helping educate – adults, too.”
After Richard’s initial support and investment, the family has been honoring his memory by continuing their support. His dream was to educate every student in the state about where their food and clothes and supplies come from: local farms. The Mains Family Farm supports over 200 steers and 20,000 chickens, and the family has been farming since Rick’s great-grandfather was in the area.
Now, the Mains family is thinking about their own futures, and the future of their children and grandchildren. Rick thinks the program is a testament to reaching the kids who aren’t old enough to be in their local FFA. “As a farming community, if folks would donate more to the Foundation, there would be a lot more opportunities to educate,” Rick says.
They have hopes for the future of the program, too. Rick hopes we’ll be able to reach more adults with our newest immersion lab, a project sponsored by GIANT, and in turn those adults will pass the knowledge on to their own families. Sheree wants us to keep visiting more schools. And Wendy, a teacher on that original lab, dreams about future innovations in agriculture and how technology might inspire career interest for new generations.
For this family, reaching children at their earliest school ages is vital to cultivating passion about agriculture. Foundation Executive Director, Charlene Shupp Espenshade, shares a few different smiles with me through the interview. I have to smile back because I’m thinking the same thing she is – this is our path for the foreseeable future. Bringing agriculture education to the residents of Pennsylvania. Not just students, but every person living in our state.
This year, we’re striving more than ever before to bring the Foundation mission to life: Planting seeds. Cultivating knowledge. Harvesting an understanding of agriculture.
Fortunately, supporters like the Mains family understand that we can’t do it alone. They contribute through a trust fund in Richard’s memory at the York County Community Foundation and plan to continue giving for however long we have the Mobile Ag Lab program.
We know there are a lot of you out there with stories similar to the Mains. We want to inspire every one of you to become proud supporters of the Foundation’s important work, just like the Mains family. That’s why we are working hard to build new labs, create outstanding programming, and keep reaching more students.
Here’s to another wonderful year at the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation.