Contact: Lynne Richmond
(TRENTON) – For New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles M. Kuperus, the keys to ensuring agriculture’s future in the state are preserving farmland, keeping a viable and thriving agriculture and equipping the next generation and welcoming new people into the industry.
Today, Secretary Kuperus saw there are vibrant, innovative young people who are ready to take over as New Jersey agriculture’s next leaders. Kuperus visited four farms in South Jersey owned by people in their 20’s and 30’s or in which young family members figure prominently in the business.
“Even though the median age of a farm owner in New Jersey is 55, we are seeing more and more young people who see the many opportunities in entering our state’s diverse agriculture industry,” said Secretary Kuperus. “The demand by consumers for organic produce, fruits and vegetables, horticulture products and services, agritourism and direct-from-the-farm products is drawing young and new farmers to New Jersey. Resources are being developed to help them get started in the industry.”
- www.nj.gov/agriculture/sadc/farmlink -- The New Jersey State Agriculture Development Committee operates the Farm Link program, which assists new farmers who are looking for land and opportunities to gain experience to get started.
- www.jerseyageducation.nj.gov -- The Department of Agriculture supports agricultural education programs and FFA in the state.
- www.nj.gov/agriculture/grants/juniorbreeder.html -- The Department oversees the New Jersey Junior Breeder Loan Program, a dedicated funding program that enables the agricultural youth of New Jersey to secure funds, purchase livestock, establish production projects and keep accurate records. The purpose of the program is to seek the interest of the youth in the state, aid in agricultural education efforts, and provide a dedicated funding program that will assist in sustaining the future of New Jersey agriculture.
- www.nj4h.rutgers.edu – New Jersey has a vibrant 4-H program, which uses a learn-by-doing approach to enable youth to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to become competent, caring, and contributing citizens of the world.
- www.nj.gov/agriculture/sadc/farmlink/resources/newfarmers.html -- View listings of additional resources for new and aspiring farmers.
Secretary Kuperus’ tour today took him to four farms. Porch Farms in Pedricktown, Salem County, a 175-acre wholesale fruit and vegetable farm, is operated by 36-year-old Brian Porch, a third generation farmer. Porch Farms produces cucumbers, bell peppers, strawberries, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yellow squash and watermelon. Porch had gone to college for another profession, but didn’t like it and decided to join the family business.
Michael Brooks’ family has been working the land they still till today in Elmer, Salem County, since 1773. Brooks’ father, William Brooks, was honored as one of the state’s Distinguished Service Citation recipients during the 2008 New Jersey State Agricultural Convention for his many accomplishments and dedication to the agriculture industry. Michael, at age 26, has his own achievements, serving as state FFA president while in high school. FFA is a national youth organization with 37 chapters in New Jersey that uses agricultural science education to develop students’ potential and help them discover their talent.
The Brooks’ Dusty Lane Farm consists of 1,400 acres, with 250 acres of tomatoes for processing, which recently resulted in a “Jersey Fresh” brand of crushed tomatoes, a product that is being distributed state-wide. The farm also produces 160 acres of spinach for processing, 180 acres of white potatoes, with the rest of the acreage in peas, corn, soybeans and wheat. One thousand acres of the farm are permanently preserved.
Michael also started a transport business, MNB Transport, with two tractor-trailers.
“I am only 26 but I plan on being here for a long time,” said Brook. “I will have to adjust and adapt the business to changing market conditions.”
Ken Harris is a first generation farmer who opened Marlboro Farm Market in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, in 1979. He has grown his diversified farm into 150 acres, growing peaches, nectarines, fall vegetables, heirloom sweet potatoes, winter squashes, and pick-your-own pumpkins. In addition, he grows nursery stock and is in the fourth growing season for cut-your-own Christmas trees. In greenhouses, he grows spring and seasonal flowers and mums. He has three retail markets: a year-round market on Route 49 in Bridgeton and two season markets in Cape May, one of which is on 50 acres of preserved land.
Harris has been helped in his business by his 20 year-old son, Ken Jr., and his nephew, Dale Cruzan III, a former state FFA president, who served as nursery manager at the farm this past summer. He currently is attending Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences as a Plant Science major.
Bob Blew first started farming when he was 8 years old, the 10th generation of farmers in his family. The last three generations have been in the nursery business. He and his 29 year-old brother, Don, own and operate BlewLine Nursery in Bridgeton, with more than 50 acres of Daylilies, Hosta and woody shrubs. The Blew family also owns Centerton Nursery, a large container perennial wholesaler.
“There are so many examples in New Jersey of younger farmers joining their family businesses and we even see new people starting farms due to the growth opportunities that exist in the industry today,” said Secretary Kuperus. “Through improving and expanding agricultural education programs in the state and providing guidance and support to young and new farmers, we are confident agriculture will continue to grow and thrive in the Garden State.”
Secretary Kuperus annually tours farm operations in early spring. During last year’s tour he also encountered young farmers. He visited Sheppard Farms in Newport, an organic farm operated by Michele Sheppard who is in her 20’s and Ploch Farms, a 280-acre wholesale produce farm in Vineland, operated by John Ploch and his son, Ryan, who was the 2003 New Jersey Outstanding Young Farmer.