BENTON HARBOR —The Michigan Farm Bureau named Steve Rigoni of Countryside Academy in Benton Harbor as its educator of the year.

The educator of the year will receive a scholarship to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference as well as a $500 classroom grant from the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.

Rigoni brings his previous agricultural work experience into his high school classroom at Countryside Academy.

Having grown up on a farm and worked in agribusiness for several years, he shares his experiences raising cherries, peaches, grapes, asparagus and other commodities with his students daily.

His line up of agricultural courses include Botany, Zoology, Fundamentals of Agriculture while also incorporating food science, natural resources and wildlife management concepts.

Rigoni designed the school’s educational barn, structuring the pens, water systems, lighting, temperature controls and storage to handle many livestock species throughout the school year.

Here, students can engage in animal care and handling, from birth through exhibiting at the Berrien County Youth Fair, as a portion of their agriculture courses.

Rigoni leads students through propagating flower and vegetable plants from seed. Eventually, students take these plants home to raise food for their families.

“Mr. Rigoni is a teacher, mentor, adviser and role model for his students,” Ed Kretchman, Berrien County Farm Bureau president, said in a news release. “When his students began building animal pens, it was obvious most students had never used construction tools. With his patient instruction, they finished one shelter and started another. Mr. Rigoni has a kind, thoughtful mentoring style that can draw the best out of his students.”

Through Rigoni’s leadership, his students’ learning has extended beyond their in-class experiences. The students have assisted with Farmer for a Day and Garden of Education at the Youth Fair.

High school students partnered with third- through fifth-grade students to raise and release pheasants on a wildlife land plot designed to provide food and shelter for the birds.

MFB’s educator of the year award recognizes teachers who excel at integrating agriculture and natural resource concepts into school curriculum and who challenge students to develop critical thinking skills through the analysis of agricultural issues and information. Teachers are nominated annually by county Farm Bureaus for this award.

The award will be presented at MFB’s 101st State Annual Meeting in December.