Alumnus Credits FFA for His American Dream

You might say former North Carolina FFA member Richard Apolinar is living the American dream. His parents, Camilo and Juliana, emigrated to the United States from Mexico and started C&J Nursery, a thriving family business in Angier, where Apolinar works full time.

“I’m the first generation in my family to be born in the U.S.,” says Apolinar, 28. “My parents are both very involved in our business, and we have about 14 workers total, including some seasonal workers from Mexico. Dad is the leader who organizes us all and tells us what needs done. My younger sister, Jessica, also works for our business.”

The nursery has grown from 35 acres in 2006 to about 100 acres today and specializes in trees, shrubs and flowers. But for the Apolinar family, success didn’t come easy. The economic recession from 2007 to 2009 caused many businesses to close, but the agriculture-loving Apolinar family managed to survive by sacrificing and continuing to invest in their business.

Apolinar graduated from West Johnston High School in 2010 and decided to join the family business after completing law enforcement training. He got married in 2012 to his high school sweetheart, Antonia. A few years later, tragedy struck.

“My older brother, Camilo Jr., was a great businessman who was a leader in our family business,” Apolinar says. “I looked up to him. He was one of the reasons I joined FFA. I admired him wearing his blue jacket. But he passed away in a motorcycle accident in June 2015.”

Camilo Jr. was only 26 when he died.

“It was a tough blow to our family and our business,” Apolinar says. “Life brings a lot of things you don’t expect. But we kept on working hard, and we’re here today. We’re thankful for all the blessings we have.” Among those blessings are three beautiful daughters, ages 5, 3 and 18 months old.

He credits his experience at West Johnston FFA for giving him skills that help him succeed in his career today.

“The seed was planted by my parents to be in the agriculture business, and FFA nurtured it. I’m harvesting that success today,” he says. “FFA helped me learn to be organized, to be a leader for our workers, to be assertive and professional, and to know all the aspects of my job so I can be in command.”

FFA also equipped him with opportunities to network with other agriculture businesses across North Carolina. “In agriculture, we all work as one at the end of the day,” he says. “We all need each other.”