RU Ready to farm?
That’s the name of a three-year novice agricultural education program that started last year in May 2021 at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.
The goal of the program is to provide a way for people who are interested in becoming farmers, or who are already new farmers and beginners, to either start or expand their farming business and thrive in New Jersey.
The program, funded by a USDA grant, involves more than just growing crops and crops. First of all, it is a commercial degree.
The first year is an online course that introduces students to the ins and outs of starting and running a farming business in New Jersey.
Senior program coordinator Brendon Pearsall said students will learn about policies, regulations, how to deal with municipal zoning, pesticide licenses, environmental regulations, business planning, marketing, evaluating soil and finding the right farms for what they are growing.
Year 2 is more about gaining experience. Students work on a research farm. They develop marketing, planning, cultivation, harvesting and delivery of their own farm share and produce share.
In third grade, students continue to develop their business plans and attempt to get them into a farming job, either working with an established farmer, buying and leasing their own land, or scavenging and scavenging them if they already have land help implement their business plan so they can be more successful, Pearsall said.
Late August marked the end of 10 weeks of the students’ Community Supported Farming Program (CSA), in which students ages 20 to 60 grew and supplied produce to customers they sought out themselves, he said.
“Moreover, even though we were done with our produce for the season, we still had produce growing in the fields. Since then, students have been harvesting what’s out there every Saturday. There’s a lot of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale, green beans, just the stuff left over from the field. It’s all being donated through REPLENISH, which is the Middlesex County Food Bank System,” Pearsall said.
Most farmers in New Jersey are nearing the age of 60. Therefore, a harvest from next-generation farmers is needed. In some cases, there’s a next generation on farms ready to take over the farm, but not always, said Bill Hlubik, director of Middlesex County’s Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
“We need to educate the next generation of younger people to farm and continue the tradition of what we do in New Jersey and learn from the experts,” Hlubik said.
The students in the RU Ready to Farm program bring so much energy and enthusiasm, he added. Many of them do not have a farming background. But they come up with fresh ideas. Those fresh ideas, Hlubik said, along with new marketing skills will help them succeed in the future.
“We want to provide a bright future for farming and that is the whole intention of the RU Ready to Farm program,” Hlubik added.
Hlubik’s family has a farm in Burlington County and they have been farmers for years. But he said many people lack access to land and no way to start farming right away.
So, this program offers opportunities and provides incubator spaces for agricultural businesses. Then it works with the students through the complex issues that they would have to deal with as a farmer. Also, it helps students find some space at a reasonable cost so they can set up their own business, Hlubik said.
About 85 students have gone through the program since its inception, he said. Rutgers had to expand the program a number of times to accommodate all of the students who applied to the program. Hlubik said he has seen tremendous interest in the agribusiness over the past 5 to 7 years.
“A lot of people are looking for positive change and want to do something different and work with their hands. People seem to love it once they get into farming, farming and gardening. It’s very hard work. But the people who can do it and make it, really enjoy it,” he said.
Good soils combined with good management of the farms, combined with some eager young students who have lots of energy and are very creative makes for a great program, Hlubik said.
The New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station is why this program exists, he said. They are working on some of their areas in phase two of the program. Hlubik said he hopes to have phase three in the Middlesex County Cooperative Extension.
Enrollment for the RU Ready to Farm program begins in April each year, Pearsall said. The first phase of teaching begins in mid-May. They run through the summer. Pearsall said it was a study-at-yourself program. There are videos, readings and assignments for the students. There are also regular check-ins with students to answer any questions they may have and help them with the more complicated issues.
Then in November those who come from the first phase and are interested in continuing the practical training apply. Then, in either January or February, they plan the next year’s CSA program.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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