Students in Trumbull's Agriscience Biotechnology Center tend the llama, sheep and horses, but that's a small part of the program.
In the classrooms, they use technology to engineer better animal food and a better carrot and learn more about the technical side of farming, including how to fix farm vehicles. Every student trains on driving the tractor.
"The equipment is second-to-none," said Director Frank Cicero, a retired Trumbull educator who took the job 15 years ago. About 200 students are enrolled. The student to teacher ratio is 15:1.
"They are learning what college students learn in their freshman year," he said.
The department is housed on a former farm near Trumbull High School and its students used the farm to study in the 1960s. The current buildings were erected in 2001.
"You used to be able to go there and get milk and eggs," Cicero said. As farming changed from the 1960s, "We decided our focus had to change."
When Cicero speaks to prospective students, who must be in high school, he brings two carrots.
The older one doesn't grow as quickly and costs more money. "How did we get a better carrot? Biotechnology," he said.
Growing more food more quickly to food a growing population is a serious question today, and more scientists are needed to answer it.
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"They're lining up to hire you" if you have that skillset, according to Cicero.
Some of the lessons are even above Cicero. "I can't get over what they're learning. It's really fascinating," he said.
Sending a student to the school costs $7,650. The state helps fund the program and districts outside of Trumbull pay a small part of the tuition.
Students spend part of their day at regular courses and then tend to their farm duties. It's a larger course load than normal, but "our dropout rate is very small," Cicero said. Only a handful of students have been expelled from the program, he added.
Students must maintain a high Grade Point Average to stay in the program. They learn in 11 labs or workrooms and three classrooms, which contain highly sensitive, sterile equipment for uses such as engineering seeds or storing experiments.
One lab has equipment for analyzing DNA, similar to that of police technology.
The state is helping with a $68,000 technology grant, according to the director.
Also helping with the funding is the Friends of the Farm, a group of parents who raise money through events. The agriscience program "has a lot of real world applications," said FoF Vice President Bob Evangelista.
Despite the workload, all the students "want to be there," he added.
The school held a Halloween Festival for the first time this year, and other events such as plant sales help provide scholarship money for prospective students.
The Christmas plant sale takes place Dec. 1-12, weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., weekends, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.