Determined Cahill makes mark in FFA, ag studies

AFP Correspondent

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP (Sept. 1, 2016) — Midway through an interview for New Jersey Farmer, Hope Cahill of Tinton Falls revealed that she has dyslexia and was considered “learning disabled” in her years prior to high school.
But, she said it hasn’t stopped her, the past president of the FFA Association, from pursuing her goals of working in agriculture and helping other FFA members as an advisor.
A graduate of the Monmouth County Vocational High School FFA program, Cahill is now working full-time at RareFind Nursery in Jackson Township, Ocean County, and advising her fellow students in the FFA program.
“I wanted to go to Marine Science Tech School out at Sandy Hook, but I wound up going to Monmouth County Vocational School,” she said on July 27, opening night of the Monmouth County Fair, where FFA students from her high school were selling produce donated by Monmouth County farmers. I joined floral design for a year and a half and I did landscape design for a year and a half,” she said, “now, all of my goals I have accomplished, thanks to my great Ag teacher, Mr. (John) Neyhart.”
Neyhart has been teaching at Monmouth County’s Vocational High School for 31 years and serves as faculty advisor to that school’s FFA program. The school itself is located within walking distance of the Fair grounds on Kozloski Road.
Neyhart said there are four chapters of FFA in Monmouth County, including ones in Allentown and Freehold Regional High School and the county’s newer Biotechnology High School.
Cahill served this past year as president of the New Jersey FFA Association, talking to fellow high school students from Cape May in the south to Newton in the northwest corner of the Garden State.
“I work full-time at RareFind and help out whenever I can with FFA,” she said, noting “we actually have changed the FFA… because agriculture has transformed into this ball of everything. Almost everything we do now falls under the umbrella of agriculture,” Cahill said, noting some students in the FFA program at Monmouth Vocational High School want to work in medicine, or law enforcement, or the legal world or they want to study food science and produce packaging.
Cahill has completed courses at Rutgers to get certified in a number of different disciplines within agriculture, and also attended Nelson and Pade College in Wisconsin, which has an aquaponics farming program.
“What I love about aquaponics is you have tilapia you can eat, you have fish, and you’ve got lettuce or some other vegetable you’re growing as well, so you’ve got two different food groups,” she said, “you’ve got proteins and you’ve got your greens as well.”
Cahill works closely with Irv Paulus, RareFind’s general manager to satisfy that firm’s burgeoning mail order business. RareFind is owned by Cherry Grove Farm owner Oliver Hamill of Lawrenceville.
Cahill said she grew up in suburban Tinton Falls, not far from a landfill. As a child, she loved fishing and everything having to do with fish.
She explained how she got involved in Monmouth Vocational High School’s FFA Program.
“Your freshman year you go into all the programs and see what you like best. My sophomore year I fell in love with the Agriculture track and from there I just took off running. FFA has offered me so many opportunities,” she said.
“Mr. Neyhart, as our advisor, he makes sure the officers in the chapter are doing what they’re supposed to do, but he also teaches students about plants, pesticides, insect management, everything,” Cahill added.
Proceeds from the sale of produce during the five days of the fair are split amongst all four high schools in Monmouth County that have FFA programs.
Neyhart, said he wasn’t raised on a farm either. He attended Delaware Valley University in Bucks County, Pa., and majored in ornamental horticulture.
His arenas of specialty include ornamentals, tree shrubs, landscaping and turf management, he said, noting there’s a 95-yard par-three golf hole on the grounds of the high school nearby, so students can learn golf course grass growing and maintenance practices.
“We have a mix of kids; some go on to college, some don’t,” he explained, “I have one student who went to the Rutgers [two-year] Turf Grass Maintenance Program and went on to Muirfield Village in Ohio. He sent me pictures from the PGA tournament,” Neyhart explained.
“I have other students that have gone on to work in the Monmouth County Park System, started their own business, a couple of students at Liberty National, Charleston Springs Golf Course, Beacon Hill, they’ve gone on to that,” Neyhart said, noting students are also exposed to raising vegetables and livestock at the high school as well.
“The FFA organization helps the students develop their leadership, team-building and public speaking skills,” Neyhart argued, “and this produce stand at the Fair is just one of the fund-raising devices we use.”
Of Cahill, Neyhart said, “she is one successful, well-spoken young lady who has got a vision and drive and ambition as to where she wants to go. This produce stand gives us — ‘the seed money’ — to get us started again in September.”