For Richard Apolinar of the West Johnston FFA Chapter in North Carolina, the excitement of seeing a tiny tree mature into a 7-foot giant outweighs all the hard work it takes to operate a nursery. At his family’s 35-acre nursery in Angier, Richard’s jobs include building greenhouses, propagating trees and shrubs, maintaining climate control in the greenhouses, and delivering plant orders to customers.
“My dad has been in the nursery business for as long as I can remember,” Richard says. “As a kid, the school bus would always drop me and my brother and sister off at the nursery my dad worked at, and we would help with fertilizing and taking orders for customers.”
Richard’s father, Camilo, and mother, Juliana, both immigrants from Mexico, eventually started their own business, C&J Nursery. They raise between 600 and 800 varieties of plants, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, evergreens and hollies.
“My parents have always been in the agriculture industry. They met while he was on a tractor and she was working picking cucumbers,” Richard says with a laugh. “My dad cast a line, I guess.”
Today, Richard works full time at the nursery alongside his older brother Junior and younger sister Jessica. All three siblings have been involved with FFA, and Junior even had a job landscaping for their high school while in FFA. Richard studies criminology at Johnston Community College in the mornings before heading to the nursery to work with his family.
“I have one or two classes every day, and I come to the nursery after school to give my parents a rest,” he says. “I have three or four other guys who work with me, and my dad gives me the responsibility to put them to work. All our greenhouses are handmade – we built five this year in two months.”
C&J Nursery sells its plants and trees wholesale to plant centers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and even New Jersey.
“Our customers drive all the way here because we treat them well, and we dedicate our time to answering their questions,” Richard says. “We strive to be the best at what we do, and we offer great-quality plants that are affordable.”
The Apolinar family also sells plants retail at the Raleigh Flea Market on spring weekends at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, as well as at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market.
“I enjoy working at the nursery because I’m working for our family, not for somebody else,” Richard says. “I like seeing the plants grow and being admired by the people and professionals who come to our nursery and say, ‘Now that’s a beautiful plant.’ ”
Richard chose to study criminology so he might one day become a police officer or sheriff and serve his community.
“I was born and raised in Johnston County, and it has been a great environment to learn, work and have fun in,” he says. “But I have goals, and I want to do something with my life.”
Those goals also include carrying on his parents’ business and making sure it has a successful future. Many nurseries went out of business during the recession, but the Apolinars sacrificed and continued to invest in their business, which is paying off now as they are seeing an increase in sales.
“My dad has been dedicated to the nursery business all his life, and I really admire him because he was an immigrant who didn’t have the education – he did it the hard way,” Richard says. “He had nothing, and he became something. He’s living the American dream.”
The Green Industry
Richard and his family are part of the “green industry,” which represents thousands of businesses that grow, retail, install and care for plants and landscapes. Learn more about this segment of U.S. agriculture.
• The United States is one of the world’s top producers for nursery and greenhouse crops.
• Richard’s home state of North Carolina ranks fourth in the greenhouse and nursery industry, behind California, Florida and Texas.
• Almost 80 percent of U.S. households participate in some type of lawn and garden activities.
— Jessica Mozo