WATSONVILLE -- Ismael Ramirez squeezed pots of begonias with red blooms onto a table packed with flowering plants in a greenhouse at Watsonville High School on Thursday.
The school day had ended a half-hour before, but the 17-year-old junior was in no hurry to leave. Instead, he stayed to help with a plant sale, benefitting the school's Future Farmers of America chapter.
Ismael is one of about 150 students enrolled in agriculture classes at the school. Like many of the students, he plans on a career in farming. He grew up around agriculture, he said. His grandparents in Mexico are farmers, and in Watsonville, he's surrounded by fields of fruits and vegetables.
"This is where I want to be," he said. "Agriculture is something that is necessary for humans to live."
Instructor Ryan Kuntz teaches three overlapping courses designed to introduce students to the skills needed to run a small farming operation. Students grow vegetables from seed in the greenhouse, and transplant them into a small plot outside. They learn to drive a tractor to create the plot's even rows. They raise pigs, and in a large shop, practice welding, woodworking and mechanical repair.
The plant sale, made possible by a donation from Ernst Benary of America, an ornamental bedding plant producer on Paulsen Road, is giving students some customer service background as well as raising money for trips to FFA conferences, Kuntz said.
Participation in FFA, where students build public speaking and leadership skills, is part of the required coursework, he said.
By the time students complete the courses, they should know enough to get at least a part-time job, Kuntz said.
"There's always something to learn," said 18-year-old senior Monica Ambriz. She loves the outdoors and working with plants, but that hasn't stopped her from helping out with training the three pigs for a livestock show.
She plans to attend Cabrillo College next year, and though she wants a career in agriculture, she's not sure about a specialty.
"There's so much to explore," Ambriz said.
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IF YOU GO
WHAT: Ornamental bedding plants for sale to help students participate in Future Farmers of America programs
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through FridayWHERE: Agriculture Department, Watsonville High School, 250 E. Beach St., Watsonville
CONTACT: Ryan Kuntz, 831-728-6328