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Newton High students 'harvest' benefits from Sussex Farm project

6/24/2021 11:39:04 AM
Professor Collins wearing a hat and work closes shares planting tips with a student at the farm. Student gather together at the farm holding shovels and racks in their work clothes.

Sussex County Community College (SCCC) sees many benefits in providing support for the Future Farmers of America Program at Newton High School (NHS).

What started as a conversation about SCCC's concurrent courses for NHS students has evolved into a new partnership between both schools.

"In a meeting (between SCCC and NHS officials), we started talking about our student farm," recalled Erin Collins, Agricultural Business & Horticultural Science Program Supervisor at Sussex. "We never got to the other things we were going to discuss. And now," while leading a class at the farm of NHS students with FFA Advisor Andrew Morris, "this is where it is at."

This new cooperative program between the College and the high school began earlier this year and quickly blossomed into something special.

"We were looking to start a community garden, and the College brought up the student farm," said Morris. "We said, 'great, let's give it a try!"

The SCCC student farm, a 5-acre plot on Route 206 in Newton leased through the Food Shed Alliance, is a part of the College's SAgE project (Sustainable Agriculture Enterprise). The project's objective is to provide students interested in the farming industry with hands-on experience. Following organic farming standards set forth by the USDA, the farm is essentially an outdoor classroom.

During the year, the farm harvests an array of vegetables such as onions, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, carrots, pumpkins, and more, as well as flowers. The produce makes its way to the Foodshed Alliance for distribution along with a farm stand on campus. The College’s culinary program will ultimately benefit from the student farm at a new learning and dining facility at the McGuire Technical Education Center in Newton. Completion of the new facility is set for spring of 2022.

"The students are getting a great experience," said Morris, also an Agri-Science teacher at the high school. "They are not limited to a greenhouse. The farm exposes many of them to something new."

The partnership between the farm and FFA has already been a success for most high school students who have participated.

"You can see how hard labor can pay off," said NHS FFA President Dominick Gruca. "You get right into here."

Recent NHS graduate Matthew Kuever added, "I've always wanted to do something with nature and the environment. This has helped me decide to go into earth science or agronomy."

For more information about the SCCC Agriculture School and agriculture degrees or the farm specifically, please visit sussex.edu/academics or contact Erin Collins - ecollins@sussex.edu

Picture #1: Professor Collins discusses proper planting with with Matthew Kuever. 
Picture #2: Professor Collins in front, L-R, Lilira Mecaj, Dom Megna, Christopher Mastrelli, Donovan Hetzel, Peter Weissensee, Dominick Gruca, Matthew Kuever.
Picture #3: Professor Collins and Lilira Mecaj.