When it comes to learning about the diverse agriculture industry, students start young in New Jersey. Nationwide youth programs such as FFA and 4-H have a huge presence in the Garden State, and schools and career centers across the state focus on preparing young people for careers in agriculture.
Agricultural Education and FFA
“Opportunities to educate students about agriculture exist as a result of 43 New Jersey school districts offering Agricultural Education,” says Nancy Trivette, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s state Agricultural Education program leader and state FFA advisor. “Three-component Agricultural Education Programs offer students class and lab instruction in agriculture, food and/or natural resources, supervised agricultural experiences outside regular class time, and leadership development through FFA.”
High school students enrolled in state-approved agricultural instruction programs can also be members of FFA. New Jersey has 35 FFA chapters and 2,600 FFA members.
FFA delivers leadership and career development events in a wide range of areas, including leadership conferences for local chapters and state FFA officers. Members are awarded and recognized for excelling in FFA events.
“FFA is a wonderful tool to help teachers teach agriculture and a wonderful motivator to help students learn about agriculture,” Trivette says. “Our members choose careers in any of more than 300 agricultural career areas. Some members become entrepreneurs in production agriculture, the landscape industry or floral industry, to name a few. Others become ag bankers, lawyers, agriculture and science teachers, state ag education staff, 4-H agents, lobbyists, college professors, soil scientists, ag engineers, weed specialists, veterinarians, agronomists and more.”
4-H and Rutgers
New Jersey 4-H is a youth development program of Rutgers Cooperative Extension that teaches leadership, citizenship and life skills to students in kindergarten through one year beyond high school. 4-H members explore agriculture, science, the arts, food and nutrition, camping and outdoor adventure using a fun, learn-by-doing approach.
In 2012, approximately 10,849 New Jersey youth were members of organized 4-H clubs. A study by Tufts University found that when compared to other youth, young people with 4-H backgrounds had higher educational achievement and motivation for future education and made more civic contributions to their communities.
For many students, 4-H is their first connection to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, giving them access to the valuable resources and scientists at Rutgers. The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station is an important part of Rutgers, providing research, extension and education programs that serve New Jersey residents.
“Since 1880, New Jersey farmers have depended on and trusted the scientific research generated by the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station,” says Dr. Robert Goodman, executive dean of agriculture and natural resources at Rutgers. “As the state’s land-grant institution, Rutgers has been New Jersey’s source of education about agriculture for 150 years. The tradition continues today as we teach the business of farming to aspiring farmers and ag entrepreneurs enrolled in our growing agriculture and food systems major at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.”
Monmouth County Career Center
High school students in New Jersey can prepare for agriculture careers at places such as the Monmouth County Career Center, where students learn on a shared-time basis about landscaping, turf management, greenhouses and floral design.
The career center has one of the few golf courses that exist on a school property, and it is totally maintained by students. Students also are in charge of growing plants and flowers in the greenhouses and filling customer orders at the center’s own flower shop. Their training often leads to employment after high school.
“We’ve had a number of students placed at golf courses in our area, and we have other graduates working at premier golf courses,” says John Neyhart, turf management instructor at Monmouth County Career Center. “Other graduates own their own lawn care businesses and work at nurseries and some of the big estates. We are very fortunate to have this program. We hear kids say all the time they wish they could be here all day long. It’s a nurturing environment.”
Cheryl Alfonse and Laurie Neyhart teach floral design at the career center, and their students arrange flowers for weddings, banquets and community events.
“Some of the kids who come to us may not be successful when given a pencil and paper, but they get other tools in their hands here, and they get so excited about what they’re learning they just take off,” Alfonse says. “There’s so much agriculture offers, they can always find something they’re good at.”