V.I. students explore wide world of agriculture in summer exchange program with stateside colleges

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Enperatriz Delgadillo had helped pick vegetables and feed chickens on her uncle's farm before, but that was the extent of her agricultural knowledge before joining the Future Farmers of America on St. Croix.

Now Delgadillo, 13, is well-versed in everything from aquaculture to biotechnology.

She was the youngest of five Future Farmers of America students from the territory to venture stateside this summer as part of a partnership between the V.I. Agriculture Department and several universities with strong agriculture programs.

It is the fourth time that the department has participated in the exchange, which involves Alcorn University in Lorman, Miss., and Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Ky.

Some students, depending on their program were at their respective schools for a month, while others took part for two weeks. The program ran from late June through July.

In the past, the department also has teamed with Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga.

The all-expense paid experience is one that the Agriculture Department hopes will encourage more of the territory's youth into agricultural careers.

The students primarily were from high schools in the territory, though Delgadillo is a student at Elena L. Christian Junior High School on St. Croix.

The other students from St. Croix included Jonathan Garcia and Amy Athill, both of the Central High School FFA Chapter. Students from St. Thomas included Juddy Hernandez of the Charlotte Amalie High School FFA Chapter and Clemon Lewis of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School FFA Chapter.

"We see them as our future leaders," said Agriculture Commissioner Louis Peterson Jr.. "We're hoping that they will choose a career path in agriculture."

The state universities cover all of the room and board expense for the student exchange, as well as the expenses for food and stateside transportation. This year, St. Croix's Tibbar Energy covered the students' flights to and from the states.

The four years that the department has maintained the program have not been consecutive, according to Peterson, who said that the program largely is reliant on the resources available to the department. Such programs are vital to the territory's future in agriculture, he said.

"A lot of them have not had direct involvement - except for maybe having a small garden at home," Peterson said of the territory's youth.

Jonathan Garcia, 16, who will be a senior this year at St. Croix's Central High School, said that he got involved in FFA only last year so that he could go on a trip to Washington, D.C.

Since getting involved in the program, Garcia, who is now the territory-wide student president of the Future Farmers of America, said that he is likely to pursue a computer science education and use it to apply toward an agricultural sector career.

During his month-long exchange at Kentucky State University, he learned about software engineering, advertising and video production as applied to agriculture.

"Agriculture is not all farming, like people think it is," Garcia said.

The Agriculture Department always is looking for additional students to join the Future Farmers of America chapters at St. Croix's Central High School, the Charlotte Amalie High School and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.

The Agriculture Department also is seeking persons interested in organizing a Future Farmers of America alumni chapter in the territory. The organization will include, but will not be limited to, past members, though anyone interested may join.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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