Back in grade school when you were getting jostled and bumped in the back of a hayride on Halloween, farming may have seemed furthest from your mind as a career choice. But, hey, if you love the great outdoors, then New Jersey has lots of agriculture jobs to choose from. They don't call it the Garden State for nothing.
While New Jersey still has its share of cornfields and dairy farms, high-profit products like ethnic veggies, horses and fish are the next farming generation. Did you know that New Jersey has more horses per capita then any other state? With the state's building boom, dense population, and high income levels, "customers are right here in our backyards," says Richard Nieuwenhuis, president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
Another of those popular high-profit products comes in a bottle. Vineyards and wineries are the fastest growing segment of New Jersey agriculture. New Jersey's more than 20 wineries produce some 40 varieties of wines from nearly 1,000 acres of vines and more land is being added annually. The Garden State is fifth in production among wine producing states in the nation.
All those promising statistics added up to a smooth career choice for one twenty-something. Bloomsbury vintner Roger Kissling, 23, could be called a farmer. He helps grow grapes and makes wine as the assistant vineyard manager at Alba Vineyard in Finesville. "There's a certain prestige. It ties you into a good cycle of life," he says. "It's not the same old boring thing." In summer Roger prunes vines, taste-tests grapes and goes to festivals at New Jersey's various vineyards. Fall brings the harvest and winemaking, and in winter he tidies vines and fixes trellises. In spring, he bottles the contents of awaiting vats. As in growing anything, every harvest and season brings different decisions about the ultimate product--wine. He enjoys both the intellectual and manual aspects of viticulture (one of those fancy words for grape-growing and wine-making).
Roger graduated from North Hunterdon High School in 2000. Four years later, armed with a business degree from Lehigh University and looking for work, he took a part-time job at a winery and fell in love. "It would be a dream come true to own a vineyard myself," he says. He learns on the job, takes winemaking courses on the Internet from UC Davis, and at The Institute of Masters of Wine.
Roger, you might say, is one of New Jersey's farmers of the future. Yet the state has a rich agricultural past. New Jersey was nicknamed "The Garden State" 129 years ago when a Camden man said, "...the Garden State, like an immense barrel, is filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and the New Yorkers from the other..." Today our state is second nationwide in growing blueberries and has more horses per square mile than Kentucky. There are 49,000 horses at 7,100 facilities, covering one-tenth of all the land in New Jersey.
We are big into horse shows, breeding, boarding, competitions, rodeos and racing. The equine industry is the third most lucrative type of agriculture. The jobs are endless--farm managers, vets, trainers, drivers, blacksmiths, caretakers, engineers who develop plans for barns, horse shippers, hay growers, clothing and equipment-makers. A degree, even an associates, in equine or farm management, is helpful as are internships or jobs.
Agriculture's biggest money-maker is the nursery and greenhouse business that grows plants for wholesale, garden centers, roadside stands, florists, chains and supermarkets, and allied trades such as landscapers. A one-acre greenhouse costs $1 million to grow, so growers grow seasonal rotations of bedding plants to sell in spring, containers of summer flowers, fall mums and holiday poinsettia. "There is a huge need for people who are experienced in growing and culturing in greenhouses or in nurseries," says Nieuwenhuis. He recommends starting as an apprentice grower, taking business and science courses and sharpening computer skills.
"It's a hands-on industry. Get a job at a greenhouse or nursery and start learning from the ground up. While in high school, an entry-level job would pay from $8 to $10 an hour. You can eventually be a section grower who handles specialty plants," adds Nieuwenhuis. Check community and land grant colleges for degrees in agriculture and vocational schools for a jump in wholesale sales training. Many high school students take a fast path into agriculture with 4-H and FFA programs, and summer courses at community colleges.
"There is a fascination about making a living from natural resources and the outdoor environment," says Nieuwenhuis. "Entrepreneurial, clever, resourceful people take a lot of satisfaction from farming. There's no 9 to 5 aspect about being a farmer. It's always on your mind 24-7."