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Horticulture Expo at MCCC Helps
High School Students Plant Seeds for Future


West Windsor, N.J. – While winter refuses to quit, the skywalk around the quad on the West Windsor campus of Mercer County Community College was bursting with springtime from March 15-17.

For the second year, the college hosted the New Jersey High School Horticulture Expo in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Once again the West Windsor campus proved an ideal setting for the show. According to MCCC Horticulture Program Coordinator Amy Ricco, the event had 750 entries from students in 26 schools statewide.

Categories ranged from floral displays in a wide variety of themes, to dish gardens, terrariums and bonsai arrangements. On the first day, 56 students took part in a live floral arranging competition in the gymnasium, with each student creating two displays for judging, which were then available for sale. In the course of the weekend, more than 300 visitors attended the Expo.

Nan Hamilton, a teacher at Northern Burlington High School who teaches a greenhouse class and a class in agri-science, was enthusiast about the event.  Ninety-nine students from her school participated. 

“It’s great for the students,” Hamilton said.  “It gives them a creative outlet, a hands-on task to complete, and a deadline to meet.”

Many students indicated an interest in working in some aspect of the field one day, mentioning jobs ranging from floral shops, to landscaping to agri-management. Freehold High School senior Kimberly Roach said she is planning to get into the business of floral design. She had two themed entries in the show: one arrangement for Independence Day and another in the wedding bouquet category.

Delsea High School senior Charles Zielke says his horticulture class has been nothing short of life-changing. “We do bonsai and dish gardens. Last week we planted organic tomato seeds.  This class just clicked for me.  I use my study halls to go back to the classroom and work on projects. I even spend time on projects at home.”  A resident of Cumberland County, Zielke has his sights set on farming.

MCCC students got a chance to be part of the action. Freshman Lisha Huff, an Education major, was one of the judges.  Huff had been active in FFA throughout high school and came to MCCC last year with her entry when she was a senior at Hunterdon. “I have a full appreciation of what it takes to put these displays together,” Huff said.

Two MCCC Horticulture students, Jennifer Buffington and Joyce Reyhan, also served as judges. Admissions and Horticulture staff members took interested students on campus and greenhouse tours and the Department of Agriculture offered leadership development workshops.

Ernest Arians is the state president of FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America).  Arians, now a sophomore at Ocean County College, says that FFA is a passion for him.  Hailing from a family that works in the agricultural business, he has been active in farming his whole life.  He notes that FFA is about horticulture and about its members, who learn valuable leadership skills, while gaining knowledge about the field for future career possibilities and personal interest.

Notes Ricco, "We host the show for a number of reasons. We want the general public to visit our campus to see the talents of high school students who participate in agriculture-related programs across the state.  We also want to inform the high school students and the public about Mercer's outstanding Horticulture program. This year our own students got invovled as judges, which is a great leadership experience for them."

Nicolette Salay created a cake out of carnations
and pom poms in the wedding design category.
Kimberly Roach with her display
for the wedding category.



MCCC Ornamental Horticulture Curriculum

MCCC Plant Science Curriculum

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MCCC freshman Lisha Huff served as a judge for the Horticulture Expo. Last year, as a senior at Hunterdon Central High School, Huff participated in the Expo.
Fifty-six students participated in the Live Floral Arranging competition in the gym.
Horticulture Program Coordinator Amy Ricco, who coordinated the event with the NJ Department of Agriculture, is pictured with FFA State President Ernest Arians, a student at Ocean County College who plans to go into farming.
Ocean Coutny VoTech School students took time to tour the campus.
Kelly Gangel created a floral design y using a doll stroller as her container for the new baby category.
Three students from Piscataway enjoyed viewing the designs submitted by their peers across the state.
Kiana Harris celebrated Mardi Gras with her design.
Students on their way to set up their designs for judging.