Seniors Shauvon Mangole, of Dennis Township, and Carlie Schweivinz also of Dennis, remove dead folage from potted plants at Cape May Technical High School. The students are in their third year of study in the FFA program.

If New Jersey wants to maintain its reputation as the Garden State, it will need a new generation of students to lead the way. The state has an active Future Farmers of America association with more than 1,800 members in 34 school chapters who learn about public policy and community leadership. 

“Agriculture is a global issue,” said Nancy Trivette, state FFA adviser and agriculture education program director at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. “How are we going to feed billions of people where there is less land and water?”

The current state FFA president and vice president are both 2010 Cape May County Technical High School graduates. Alec McAlarnen, of North Wildwood, and James Ferguson, of Green Creek in Middle Township, are both in college now, planning to be teachers. McAlarnen, who attends Ramapo College in Mahwah, Bergen County, said he has learned a lot about the dairy business. 

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“I really got to see the impact of Hurricane Irene on farmers up here,” he said. “People lost a year’s income.”

A student at Neumann University in Pennsylvania, Ferguson got interested in agriculture working in his aunt and uncle’s greenhouse, a business he might continue in the summers.

Some high school students come from farm families, others are learning for the first time how demanding it can be.

Junior Rachel Robbins, 16, of Commercial Township, is a choice student at Cumberland Regional who has been involved in 4-H most of her life. Secretary of the school FFA chapter, she wants to become an equine veterinarian. Senior Robert Porter 17, of Stow Creek, president of the school’s FFA chapter, lives on a farm with cattle and a nursery and works on a neighboring farm. He is into mechanics and hopes to work one day for John Deere or Caterpillar, makers of farm equipment.

“People don’t realize all there is to agriculture,” Porter said. “They think it’s all tractors and cows. So much goes into preparing and planting and harvesting one field. I do this every day, and it is not an easy job.”

James Donato, 18, a senior at Buena Regional High School, also comes from an agricultural background. He is interested in hydroponics and wants to attend Rutgers University, but may get there by way of the Army. 

Most students at Cape Tech have no agricultural background and became interested during their freshman-year exploratory course. Student Sara Ehrhardt, 17, of the Villas in Lower Township, president of that school’s FFA chapter, said a highlight for her has been attending conventions. She’s now thinking about becoming a florist. Charlie Schweivinz, 17, a senior from Dennis Township, likes the science side of agriculture and is considering a career in biotechnology.

“We really do a lot of science here,” he said. 

Cumberland Regional agriculture teacher Michael Griffith said even if students don’t make agriculture their career, they develop a greater understanding of the world they live in.

“This is just a wonderful opportunity for them to get an appreciation of the agriculture they see around them every day,” he said.

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