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Sunday, July 14, 2024


Grant Will BeautifyTech Path

By Al Campbell

On Dec. 20 at the district board of education meeting, Ken Howell, vice president of the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter, presented Superintendent William Desmond with a $10,000 check from N.J. Coastal Wetlands Partnership.
The award, one of three, was made at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden recently.
Accepting it there for the chapter were Howell; Chris Brunell, treasurer; Alicia Sullivan, secretary; Sarah Dutton, member; and assistant chapter advisor JoAnn Sopchak.
The grant was proof of the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.”
Last year, the chapter applied for a Five Star Restoration Challenge Grant. That grant is issued by a partnership comprised of the National Association of Counties, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Habitat Council.
Unable to award the grant, the group felt it had merit, and passed it along to the N.J. Coastal Wetlands Restoration Partnership, said Sopchak.
FFA members will join forces with students from Hans Toft’s natural science technology to beautify the path.
They’ll start beneath a 150-year-old red oak, add soil where needed to plant bushes, such as Butterfly bush and beach plums, and parsley plants.
Why parsley? To attract the parsley worm that changes into a black swallowtail butterfly, said Sopchak.
It’s an ideal spot. “Sunlight hits it good in winter,” said Sopchak.
Working in conjunction with a representative of the American Littoral Society, chapter members will set out other plant materials known to be prolific in the bayfront environment.
That way, they’re sure to attract small animals, insects, migratory birds and butterflies.
To students, the grant’s top feature may be its payment provision.
“Because of that, we should have no problem asking kids to stay after school,” joked Sopchak.
Overall, this project is considered a “supervised agricultural experience,” which is a mandate for FFA members.
“A lot of kids are getting involved in FFA for the leadership aspect,” said Sopchak.
On occasion, they travel to conventions  and fairs where botony and agri-science projects are judged on national level.
Three students and chaperones attended such a convention earlier this year in Lousiville, Ky.
They returned home with silver ranking, having represented the state in that contest.
One of Sopchak’s objectives with the chapter is to show members the vast opportunities that await them in the realm of agriculture.
“I sometimes have problems recruiting because, technically, it’s agriculture. A lot of kids and parents still think of agriculture as a guy on a tractor with overalls and a hay straw in his mouth. It’s not like that anymore,” she added.
Within this county alone, she cited aquaculture projects, such as one that recently had five students assisting Rutgers University researchers transfer seed oysters from flats off Green Creek in Delaware Bay to Cape May Harbor.
She also pointed to landscape, sod farms and nursery producers in Belleplain and other parts of the county.
“It’s amazing. Once these students put those blue (chapter) jackets on, they grow up. I expect them to behave when they are representing FFA.
“I was in FFA for four years in Klein High School, Spring Texas,” said Sopchak.
At first, she wanted to become a teacher, but her father was reluctant to spend money on that career, so she continued in horticulture, after she attained a degree in ornamental horitcultre from Texas A&M.
She worked in the horticulture and nursery business for 30 years, attained a teaching certificate, and today glories in the success of students who are beginning to follow in her footsteps.
Contact Campbell at:

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