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A life of service

By Lauren Finnegan, Public Affairs Specialist

Maj. Joseph Labarbera (Ret.) looks out over his farm in Stillwater, N.J., where he is implementing the agroforesty practice of silvopasture along with N.J. NRCS.For retired Army Major and beginning cattle farmer Joseph Labarbera, there was never any doubt that he would serve his country. Growing up in Staten Island, he clung to every word of the war stories told by his father, a World War II veteran, and loved playing with the little green Army men that were once a mainstay in every child’s toybox.


“Ever since I was a kid, every time I saw G.I. Joe, every time I saw Army men or heard the stories from my elders – there was never any question in my mind that I was going to be a Soldier.”


So in 1995, he joined the military and started a honored career that would span two decades and include a combined 54 months deployed in support of conflicts around the globe.


But it wouldn’t be until September 2004, on the outskirts of the village of Radwaniyah, Iraq, that then Captain Labarbera would realize what he wanted to do in his second act – become a farmer.


Deployed as the Civil Military Operations officer with the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Drum, New York, Labarbera, and half a platoon of soldiers were traveling to meet with a local sheikh to gain information about the rocket attacks that continued to pound the Baghdad International Airport.


N.J. NRCS employee awarded honorary FFA Degree

By Lauren Finnegan, Public Affairs Specialist

Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Scientist, Fred Schoenagel, was awarded the Honorary American FFA Degree, by the National FFA Organization, a school-based national youth leadership development group. The award is given to those who advance agricultural education and FFA through outstanding personal commitment.

New Jersey State FFA Specialist Kristianne Goodenough, said that Schoenagel’s endless commitment to the state-chapter is what stood out in the minds of the New Jersey FFA Executive Board.

“Mr. Schoenagel’s continuous support of the New Jersey FFA has allowed members to succeed at state level competitions but also allows them a way to connect their interests with future career success,” she continued. “It is because of these opportunities that he provides members  that he was selected as an Honorary American Degree Recipient.”

Schoenagel was introduced to the organization in 2006 and has been an active participant in their biannual meets ever since. In addition to assisting in the Environmental and Natural Resources Career Development Event (CDE) each spring, Schoenagel coordinates the Land Judging CDE that takes place in the fall.

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Newark's West Ward receives an infusion of hope

By Lauren Finnegan, Public Affairs Specialist

Tobias Fox, Newark Science and Sustainability Founder and Managing Director, sits in his urban garden, the Garden of Hope.NEWARK, N.J.-- A three-year-old boy weighed down by his oversize backpack and clutching the hand of his father, scurries down the ramp in front of his preschool. To his right he sees a sidewalk covered in broken glass, abandoned fast-food wrappers, and a pile of tattered mattresses in front of a long-ago abandoned home. But to his left, he’s able to take in the giant bumblebees that fly among a swirl of reds, blues, and yellows on the once peeling concrete walls that surround the Garden of Hope, an urban garden tucked within Newark’s West Ward.

The garden, one of a plethora that have popped up since the city started their Adopt-a-Lot program in 2004, was started by Newark Science and Sustainability Founder and Managing Director, Tobias Fox. Fox’s colleague, Jacqueleen Bido, came across the trash-strewn vacant lot in 2015 and thought it would be the perfect place to begin the community project.

“One day as I’m standing in the lot, observing the space, I noticed a group of children exiting the adjacent building … Social psychology teaches us that environment has a direct influence on our behavior, and I imagined what effect the conditions of the neighborhood -- despair, hopelessness, abandonment, and criminal activity -- were having on the children. It was at that moment I decided that I wanted to take on the challenge of transforming the space,” Fox said.