Good morning. Thank you to the staff and leadership of The Ecology School for helping our state reach this milestone in sustainability. Thank you to all of you who played a part in making this dream become real. It is special to be part of this day and I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done leading up to this exciting moment. Today we are celebrating the years of work that have gone into Riverbend Farm and we are celebrating the sustainable future that you’re modeling here.
This site will be a reason for many Mainers to hope. This site will serve as a model for what Maine can do if we set our sights high.
My name is Ryan Fecteau and I represent my hometown of Biddeford in the Maine Legislature. I also have the honor of serving as Speaker of the House. I am the youngest Speaker in the nation and thankfully, I am also a product of my childhood experiences learning outside at the Ecology School!
A few years ago when I decided to run for Speaker, I could not have imagined the kind of Legislative session I would be presiding over. We have completely innovated the ways the State House operates to keep doing the people’s work during a pandemic.
When I was sworn in, I made a commitment that under my leadership, we would have the safest possible session and we’d continue our work. Maine now stands out because we’ve seen our virtual public hearings get more attendance, and we’ve ushered in totally new technology and solutions to meet the moment. We committed to this because we understand science and value our home districts and communities and colleagues. Like you, we looked around to see who was leading and decided we needed to be the leaders.
That is what you’ve done here at Riverbend Farm. And Maine people will feel the impact of your leadership for generations to come. You are modeling what is possible. And we are lucky that so many incredible Maine partners are supporting this remarkable work.
I got to play a very small part in the master planning work that went into this campus and it is incredible to be standing here seeing what you’ve been able to accomplish.
Over the last few days, I must say, the excitement has built: I just watched a video announcement from Governor Mills speaking about your solar array. I saw you on the front page of the Press Herald yesterday. I heard about you on Public Radio a few mornings ago. Your achievement, attaining the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard because this campus gives back more than it takes from the world around it, is meaningful for our area and for our state.
Especially now, coming out of a year of hardship for our Maine kids and families, this place will provide comfort, purpose, and meaning for many.
This week, The Maine Legislature will vote on a new resolution I’m sponsoring, A Joint Resolution Supporting All Maine Youth Outdoors recognizes the value of outdoor learning and recreation to increase student well-being, performance, and connection to natural resources in their community.
The Legislature would recognize the efforts of Maine’s outdoor learning educators. In a moment when COVID-19 has impacted the well-being and mental health of our children in ways we could not have imagined a year ago. I am grateful to the leaders in outdoor education for their work to ensure we are connecting Maine youth with the outdoors through education. This is meaningful work that will benefit our students in the short and long term. The resolution would recognize that:
- Time spent outdoors exploring and learning is proven to improve academic performance, increase student motivation, and enhance student connection to natural resources and their community.
- For years, Maine youth have been spending less and less time outdoors.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense strain on Maine youth and our education system, and teachers have creatively overcome many of these challenges by using the Maine outdoors.
- Maine’s environment and natural resource economy will depend on today’s youth, who must understand relationships between natural and human-built systems in order to make informed decisions.
- When all youth can experience the outdoors, our communities are much stronger.
I’m proud that Riverbend Farm will be a beacon in Northern New England communities for both kids and adults to experience the magic of the outdoors. I believe deeply in stewardship and in innovation. That was instilled in me at theEcology School in the third grade. I was raised in low-income housing and probably didn’t have access to the healthiest foods or have a real understanding of how I was part of a natural ecosystem, but thanks to my public school’s partnership with the Ecology School, I proudly, excitedly returned home and taught my grammy about the benefits of composting. I was a sponge! I took home everything I learned in my first experience at the Ecology School and—probably as a sign of the negotiator I would become—outlined how important composting would be for my entire family. And you know what? We actually started a compost at my Grammy’s house as a result.! One of my first political wins!
I certainly developed a deep appreciation for our environment through my third grade eyes as I learned outside at Ferry Beach, as I foraged for spruce tips to munch on, something I still do to this day. Ecology school programming is so important for young minds, and for older minds too. I can say I take what I learned outside at the Ecology School into my office in the State House today.
I hope to return to Riverbend Farm for years to come, perhaps someday with my own children. I am incredibly inspired and thankful to this community and your role in building this vision. Thank you for inspiring the next generation of leaders to think innovatively and through a lens of stewardship. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of giving back more than we take from the world around us. Congratulations!