NEWARK, NJ — An entrepreneurship program at Essex County Schools of Technology is giving nine local students the opportunity to learn essential culinary and agricultural skills to one day become self-sustaining business leaders. 

For the past eight weeks, a group of nine students from Donald M. Payne Sr. School Of Technology and West Caldwell Tech have been participating in a paid Youth Entrepreneurship Program through the Montclair Community Farm Coalition. The students work 12-16 hours a week and get paid through the Newark One-Stop program. 

The program currently includes three students from Newark: Pamela Hernandez; Amarri Thomas; and Justice Colon. 

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By learning various culinary and agricultural sciences, the farm-to-school coordinator at Donald Payne Tech, Amarilys Olivo-Mockabee, said that the program is aimed to get students out of the school building and put them on a pathway to success. 

“It’s one thing when you’re in the classroom and you’re learning these things from a book, but our program is about mentoring them,” Olivio-Mockabee said. “It’s about them understanding that this is not just a job. It’s a lifetime that you’re going to build these skills and partnerships with people.”

That path to success, however, begins with a seed-to-table approach. Students begin by learning various industry skills such as growing their own herbs, lettuces and produce. Once the items are grown and gathered, the students then use what they have grown to create their own products to market and sell.  

“We really want to teach them the whole food ecosystem and how to be good stewards of the environment,” Olivo-Mockabee said. “It gives the students the opportunity from going to the classroom into the real world where they can put those skills that they learned into an actual career pathway experience.” 

Through the program's partnership with the Montclair Community Farm Coalition, students also gain insight into agricultural skills at the Van Vleck House and Garden and the Montclair farm. By utilizing hands-on hydroponics, growing produce and engaging in workshops at Montclair Bread Company, the program participants learn more about the ingredients they grow. 

By learning how to grow these products and produce healthy recipes from them, Essex County Schools of Technology Director of Career and Technical Education Academies Cathleen DelaPaz explained that the program can benefit students particularly from urban communities where healthy, yet expensive food options in stores can stand in the way of them nurturing a better diet. 

“Our students come from all over Essex County and when they enroll in our culinary program, they start to learn about healthy options that can be delicious and not super expensive,” DelaPaz said. “The reality is that you go to a place like Whole Foods where you get a nice heirloom tomato - that’s cost-prohibitive for a lot of our students.

“For our students to learn the importance of growing from seed to producing delicious recipes that they can then share with their families and help combat some of the health issues that have traditionally plagued their communities, that’s the end goal,” DelaPaz said. 

Throughout the course of the eight-week program, students also learn vital career readiness skills to market and sell their products as well as work in conjunction with other participants. 

On April 17, the program will culminate with an event at Montclair Bread Company 16 Label St. from 4:30 to 6 p.m. where members of the public can purchase the students’ created, developed and grown products. 

These items include various foods such as handmade pizzas, doughnuts, herb butters, beverages and more. 

“Part of our program is focused on getting the students career-ready,” DelaPaz said. “We know that soft skills are lacking in the industry right now, so teaching [students] how to work collaboratively, problem solve and how to be creative - all of those communication skills that are necessary to pitching an idea to an audience. Seeing them doing something from concept to development and getting the community together is real exciting for them.”