MICHELE S. BYERS / NJ CONSERVATION FOUNDATION – It’s the quintessential American dream: find some land and start a farm. Generations of farm families began with that simple vision.
Is this dream still realistic in today’s New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state?
Yes! say agricultural experts. New Jersey has thousands of acres of farmland with prime, fertile soils and a ready supply of consumers for locally-grown produce. But prospective farmers need a solid business plan!
Fortunately, help is here.
On Thursday, Feb. 7, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension will present “R U Ready to Farm,” a free one-day beginner farmer workshop held in conjunction with the New Jersey Agricultural Convention & Trade Show in Atlantic City.
And on Feb. 19, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, better known as NOFA-NJ, will kick off the 2019 edition of “Exploring the Small Farm Dream,” its popular four-week beginner farmer course.
“We’re looking to excite people who are considering farming as a full-time or part-time job,” explained Bill Hlubik, director of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County and organizer of the “R U Ready to Farm” workshop. “This will provide an overview on how to get started and what resources are available.”
According to Hlubik, this state we’re in needs more farmers, as the average New Jersey farmer is now about 59 years old.
From what Hlubik has observed, farming still holds broad appeal. “Believe it or not, there’s been a surge of interest in the past few years,” he said. “We’ve had people at our workshops ranging in age between 18 and 80.”
For an occupation that seems so simple – planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow – Hlubik notes that farming is “not a simple business at all.”
For one, every area of New Jersey has its own soil types and climate conditions. Would-be farmers must figure out what type of land and soil they want, what location they want to be in, what crops to grow, the best techniques for producing good yields, and how to identify likely customers and market directly to those customers.
Beginner farmers must also learn about water supply, irrigation, protecting soil quality, farm tools and machinery, fertilizers, pest control, food regulations, hiring workers and financing their operation … and that’s just for starters!
But don’t be intimidated. If you want to farm, you can find expert advice on everything from landing your first job on a farm to financing your own start-up agricultural business.
“R U Ready to Farm” features more than a dozen speakers, including five New Jersey farmers and representatives of agricultural agencies, including the State Agriculture Development Committee, Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
The State Agriculture Development Committee runs “Farm Link,” a resource and referral center for farmers and landowners. Beginning and established farmers seeking land can use Farm Link to connect with landowners who have farmland for sale or lease, or business opportunities available.
As part of the Farm Link program, the State Agriculture Development Committee will hold a workshop for beginning farmers on Thursday, Feb. 28 in Trenton. Click here to find out more about Farm Link and the Feb. 28 workshop.
Why not sign up for NOFA-NJ’s “Exploring the Small Farm Dream,” which will be held on four Tuesday nights in February and March at the D&R Greenway Land Trust headquarters in Princeton? Participants will learn about small-scale organic farming opportunities and how to assess personal and financial resources, conduct market research and develop a business plan.
So if you’re longing to get your hands dirty and make your living from the land, explore your farm dreams with folks who can tell you everything you need to know!
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.