PROVINCETOWN — “We don’t sugarcoat anything,” said Dave Consalvi of the horticulture program at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich. When freshmen explore their options for career paths at the school, they are told just how tough this one will be.
“The industry isn’t for everyone,” Consalvi said. “You have to enjoy being outside even in the extremes.”
There are two seniors in the program from Provincetown, Consalvi said, and there’s a reason they’re doing well in it. “They’re tough as nails,” he said. And they are “truly passionate,” he added. “When you’re passionate about something, it’s more than just work.”
Madison King, one of the two Provincetown seniors, attributed much of her drive to her teachers. “They really helped me find my passion,” she said.
King also credited her interest in horticulture to her grandmother, who was a gardener. Growing up spending time on the water — her dad, Willis, is captain of the Provincetown fishing vessel Donna Marie — influenced her focus, too, she said. Madison is into hydroponics, and her favorite flower is the water lily. She can see herself becoming a leader in hydroponic greenhouse growing operations, though she is intrigued by aquaculture and the work that goes on at fish hatcheries.
It doesn’t matter whether she ends up working in a greenhouse or a hatchery, said Consalvi. Whatever King does, she will do well, he said — “she could be a CEO.”
Besides being the other Provincetown senior in the Cape Tech horticulture program, Christian Costa is a volunteer for the town’s fire dept. Costa said he would like to open up his own excavating business one day. For now, he’s sticking with his job at Cape Cod Excavating.
That job is possible because of the co-op program at the school. Open to juniors and seniors, the program allows students to work during their two-week “shop” rotations. (Students alternate those real-life, hands-on stretches with two-week academic sessions.) It’s not hard to tell why Costa likes the arrangement — it means that “instead of going to school every day, I can go to work for two weeks and make money,” he said.
But Consalvi knows it’s not all about the money for Costa. “He is like a motor,” said Consalvi. “He doesn’t stop working.”
The horticulture program at the Tech is not just about plants. It is part of the school’s Construction Academy, which also includes carpentry, electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), and plumbing programs. Taught by Consalvi and Steve Dolan, it covers every facet of the green industry, from landscape construction to greenhouse management. It’s not easy for the students to get through it, Consalvi said.
There are 34 students currently enrolled in the program, and more than half of them are girls.
Because of Covid-19, students are attending academic classes in person only 50 percent of the time. But their shop rotations are done in person.
On this final stretch to graduation, Costa looked back on a time he and his shop teacher “cut down a huge tree, from the top to the bottom, while in a lift” as one of his most memorable experiences. The tree was used in the construction of the new school building. His advice for underclassmen coming up: “Always be aware of your surroundings, especially working with heavy machinery and cutting down trees.”
King’s advice for anyone looking to enter the horticulture shop is “be prepared to try everything and look for the fun in the work.” The most empowering moments in the program, she said, “come when we finish job sites that improve the look of our school or others’ homes.”
What their shop teachers have taught them, she added, is that “it’s better to work as one team and as one family — that’s the most valuable thing.”
Editor’s note: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misreported the name of Madison King’s father, Willis King. Chris King is Madison’s uncle.