NEW BUFFALO — The May 10 Ideas Fair at New Buffalo Middle/High School touched on everything from a small aircraft that measure the amount of sunlight being absorbed by crops and student organizations offering the chance to assemble a birdhouse or grow edible mushrooms in your backward to learning more about the dangers of opioid painkillers or signing up to vote for the first time.

“It’s amazing what the kids have done, and they’re all so professional and they can explain what they’ve done and they’re enthused. It’s just great,” said Kate Mell of Harbor Country Hikers.

Community organizations set up their tables in the school’s Gold Gym, student organizations were in place to answer questions and make connections in the Blue Gym, and others of both stripes were located just outside.

One of the outdoor tables was manned by “Fun-Gis” Levi Shipley and Brandon Biolette, NBHS students who were handing out oak branches into which they had drilled 5/16-inch holes that were filled with mycelium plugs that should turn into shiitake mushrooms in about a year.

“We are using logs to cultivate mushrooms into food” Shipley said. “The mycelium will use the moisture and the log compounds and decompose the log to grow itself. Pretty much the size of the log is the weight of the mushrooms you will cultivate.”

New Buffalo High School student Harper Cummins got to visit with members of the New Buffalo Township Fire Department (accompanied by one of their fire trucks outdoors) during the Ideas Fair — a definite area of interest for the sophomore.

“I start a class (in August) at the A.K. Smith Center in Michigan City for people that want to be a firefighter,” she said.

New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit said the township also had a table inside the Gold Gym where Deputy Clerk Kathy Butler helped kids register to vote, Parks Director Pat Donnelly talked about the municipality’s parks, and input from survey’s on a new master plan was received.

Nathan Oman of Skyflight Robotics, a 2010 New Buffalo High School graduate, brought a $20,000 Quantum Systems drone that went on several flights over the school grounds during the Ideas Fair.

“It’s a fixed-wing drone that lands and takes off vertically but flies like an airplane,” he explained of the German flying machine. “I have one of two aircraft in the United States made by that company.”

The drone uses multi-spectral cameras which use mostly non-visual light to measure how efficiently plants are using sunlight.

“That can tell you a lot about their health. The different bands (of light) tell you different things about their chlorophyl content, their biomass,” Oman said.

Such “precision agriculture” is used for corn, soybeans, fruit crops, wine grapes, hops and other plants.

Oman said he got into the field after taking a course on drones in agriculture at Northwest Michigan College (the program was co-sponsored by SMC and MSU).

He plans on helping to establish a sister company with the owner of Skyflight Robotics called Skyflight Services.

“We’re going to be doing some work down in Brazil on agricultural mapping.”

The Young Life Ministry booth proved popular with Ideas Fair attendees as they participated in a game involving Nerf darts and ski goggles.

Leslie Wood said students visiting the Rotary Club of Harbor Country table were told that the organization is something that applies to them by “giving them the opportunity to go on a leadership training weekend and maybe being an exchange student and having an international experience.”

The club’s first international exchange student to go overseas, 2017 New Buffalo graduate Sydney Moore, is currently in Italy.

“Some of her friends have stopped by to look at the video we have of her,” Wood said.

A student from Taiwan was the guest of club member Elizabeth Larson the previous year.

High school offerings included the D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) Club where Marek Evans said players can be “the person you’ve always wanted to be” during Wednesday afternoon sessions.

“If you want to put magic on enemies, go for it. If you want to bring down the power the gods on one person, you can do that.”

One of the sample character names displayed for the New Buffalo group was “Ratt Memmo” the Brawny — perhaps a doppelganger for one of the school’s teachers?

Sonya Heath was answering questions in both the Peer to Peer booth and the Diversity, Tolerance and Acceptance Team (DTAT) area.

She said Peer to Peer is an elective class and those signing up help other pupils who may be struggling in school or dealing with disabilities.

“We help them academically and we help them socially ... we want to make sure they succeed here and they feel comfortable and welcome,” Heath said.

She said DTAT has been raising awareness about social and community issues such as bullying, suicide prevention, autism and the LGBT community for five years.

“We organize the school’s talent show and we try to do a presentation every other month.”

Marjolane De Simone said the high school quiz bowl team competed in the state meet and won a match — the first in six years for the Bison at that level.

“That was a really nice accomplishment for our team,” she said.

New Buffalo’s Bionic Bison robotics squad also recently competed at the FIRST Robotics state-level tournament — the first time the program had advanced that far in its four-year history. Coach Rob Hauch said the team encountered strong competition during the state competition and ended up placing 26th in a field of 40 teams.

Max Folino fielded a lot of questions at the WNBI  New Buffalo Bison Radio display.

He said the station is being modernized and input is being sought from the community as a whole through the Facebook page or on what music to play.

New Buffalo High School senior Felix De Simone, addressing students and participants at the start of the Ideas Fair, said the core purpose of the event is to increase community and student knowledge of available opportunities.

“Many of you, perhaps most, do not know of the breadth and number of community organizations out there that you may be interested in joining, and that would be happy to welcome you,” he said.

De Simone, a senior who plans to attend Oberlin College, attended the Aspen Ideas Festival last summer as a Bezos Scholar.

“We hope you gain something of value in the next few hours,” he said during the opening assembly on May 10. “We hope you find an organization or group that piques your interest, one that you can perhaps see yourself joining, and we hope that you leave this building with a renewed sense of engagement and opportunity.”

De Simone thanked his fellow members of an Envirothon student team (Kira Arvanitis, Lexi Moser, Alex Schmock and Jacob Smith) that helped shape the Ideas Fair.

He also thanked New Buffalo Area Schools administration and staff members for supporting the Ideas Fair since its inception.

“I would of course like to thank my fantastic teacher Mr. (Rich) Eberly, without whom this entire event never would have been possible,” De Simone said.

Just a few days ahead of Mother’s Day, Felix also thanked his mother, Hope, who was at the opening ceremony.

The Ideas Fair keynote speaker was Dr. Bryan Strother, a local chiropractor since June 1999. He spoke on how to prevent an all too real “zombie apocalypse” — the present-day opioid addiction crisis.

“We have to teach our society a different way of taking care of themselves,” Strother said.

He traced the present-day painkiller crisis all the way back to the early 1900s when heroin was put on the market, but later pulled back. Strother noted that there was cocaine in Coca Cola during that time.

What would become known as oxycodone was later developed in Germany, which led to the development of many pain medications including (in the mid 1990s) Oxycontin. He said opioids were initially embraced as a cheap way to treat chronic pain, but they do far more.

“It affects every part of your physiology because every part of your body has receptors for these opioids,” Srtrother said, adding that long-term use can lead to gastrointestinal disease, hepatitis, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease and increased sensitivity to pain.

Between 1995 and today he said the number of people overdosing on opioids has skyrocketed — reaching about 17,000 in 2000, 53,000 in 2015, and 66,000 in 2016.

Strother said there are approximately 9.9 million people in Michigan, and in 2015 there were 11 million prescriptions were written for opioids in the state.

He said many people addicted to opioids are living their lives at a diminished level, operating vehicles and even heavy equipment, working in factories, putting themselves, their families and the public at risk. The realization that operating vehicles under the influence of legal prescription drugs can be dangerous is putting an additional burden on law enforcement.

Strother said the number of people in chronic pain has doubled since 2000.

“It’s not just because our population is getting older. It’s because we’re living differently.”

He said the number of people with neck, head and upper back problems coming to him at the Wellness Center has increased significantly in the past five years.

Technology was cited as one of the biggest reasons — people spend much of their time looking down at electronic devices and are more sedentary than ever.

“If we move less, we hurt more. If we interact less with the human beings around us we hurt more. If we have a lower sense of well-being and how we interact with other people ... we hurt more,” he said.

Strother said his first advice to people who complain about pain — including members of his own family — is to changing their mind, how they hold themself, their perspective.

“We don’t immediately go to some high-end medication. Medications are there for a reason — if I break my leg darn sure that I want something to relieve the pain, but I don’t want it long term.”

He said there is a huge responsibility to move away from opioid medications when treating people in chronic pain. Typically people going to see a physician are given some sort of medication to temporarily or long term take care of a condition.

“There are very few lifestyle modifications being made, and for people with chronic pain lifestyle modifications need to be made,” he said.

Strother said he does what he can in his practice (noting that he doesn’t prescribe medication as a chiropractor), adding that other disciplines also are key to reducing the number of people on prescription painkillers.

“We need more people who are doing physical therapy, we need more people who are doing personal training, we need more people who are doing psychology and behavioral, cognitive training. All these things are ways that we need to treat chronic pain. It doesn’t start with opioids because we’ve gotten ourselves into a giant problem.”

He said teaching emotional intelligence is very important, and will help people take more control over their lives which can help keep temporary disorders from becoming chronic, long-term problems.

Megan Bolinder of Neighbor By Neighbor said she used the talk on opioid addiction to begin explaining the many services available in the area “for someone they know or someone they may know in the future who is facing an addiction to narcotics.”

She said Neighbor By Neighbor seeks to “connecting individuals to social services” along with participating in a food coalition that is working on synthesizing information on food security so people can food, especially in the summer when school is out of session.

The following is a list of the organizations that participated in the Ideas Fair: Rotary Club of Harbor Country, New Buffalo Service League, Rod and Gun Club, Teen Advisory Board. The Pokagon Fund, Neighbor by Neighbor, Sawyer Dance Academy, Blessings in a Backpack, Young Life, Chikaming Open Lands, Marquette Greenway, New Buffalo Lions Club, New Buffalo Township, Harbor Country Hikers, Girls on the Run, New Buffalo Bison Boosters, Robotics, New Buffalo Drama Club, Academic Challenge, Diversity, Tolerance, and Acceptance Team, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Peer to Peer, New Buffalo Boys’ Basketball, Dungeons and Dragons, WNBI New Buffalo Bison Radio, Trip to Spain, Drone Agriculture, NBHS Envirothon Teams, Berrien Conservation District, and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison.

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