Interested in farming in New Jersey? Rutgers has a program for beginners

RU farm ready?

It’s the name of a three-year beginner agricultural training program that launched in May 2021 at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station last year.

The goal of the program is to provide a pathway for people who want to become farmers, or who are already new and beginning farmers, to start or grow their farming business and be successful in New Jersey.

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

The program, funded by a USDA grant, is not limited to growing plants and crops. It is first of all a commercial training.

The first year is an online course where students learn the details of starting and running an agricultural business in New Jersey.

Senior program coordinator Brendon Pearsall said students learn about policies, regulations, municipal zoning management, pesticide licensing, environmental regulations, business planning, marketing, how to assess the soil and find the right farms for what they grow.

Year 2 is more about gaining experience. Students work on a research farm. They develop the marketing, planning, cultivation, harvesting and delivery of their own agricultural share and their share of production.

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

In the third year, students develop their business plans further and try to get them to work in agriculture, either by working with an established farmer, buying and renting their own land, or if they already have a pitch, helping them root out and implement their business plan so they can be more successful, Pearsall said.

The end of August marked the end of the students’ 10-week Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where students, ages 20 to 60, grew and delivered produce to customers they were looking for themselves, he said. .

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

“Beyond that, even though we were done with our produce for the season, we still had produce growing in the fields. Since then, the students have been harvesting what exists every Saturday. That’s a lot of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale, green beans, just what’s left in the field. Everything is given through TO FILLwhich is the Middlesex County Food Bank System,” Pearsall said.

Most New Jersey farmers are approaching the age of about 60. Thus, a generation of next-generation farmers is needed. In some cases on farms there is a new generation ready to take over the farm, but not always, said Bill Hlubik, director of Middlesex County Rutgers Co-op Extension.

“We’re going to have to train this next generation of young people so they can farm, carry on the tradition of what we do in New Jersey and learn from the experts,” Hlubik said.

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

Students in the RU Ready to Farm program bring so much energy and enthusiasm, he added. Many of them do not come from an agricultural background. But they come up with new ideas. These new ideas, Hlubik said, along with new marketing skills will help them succeed in the future.

“We want a bright future for farming and that’s the whole point of the UK Ready to Farm scheme,” Hlubik added.

Hlubik’s family owns a farm in Burlington County and they have been farmers for years. But he said many people don’t have access to land and the ability to start farming right away.

So this program provides opportunities and provides incubation spaces for agricultural enterprises. Then he works with the students on the complex issues they would face as farmers. Also, it helps students find space at a reasonable cost so they can start their own business, Hlubik said.

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

About 85 students have gone through the program since its inception, he said. Rutgers had to expand the program a few times to accommodate all of the students who applied to participate in the program. Hlubik said he has seen huge interest in the agricultural sector over the past 5-7 years.

“A lot of people are looking for positive change and looking to do something different and work with their hands. People, once they get into farming, ranching and gardening, seem to like it. It is very hard work. But people who do it and can get into it, really enjoy it,” he said.

Good soils combined with good farm stewardship, combined with enthusiastic young students who have lots of energy and are very creative, make for a great program, Hlubik said.

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

UK Ready to Farm (Photo credit: Linnéa Eberly, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County)

The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station is the reason 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 at the Middlesex County Co-operative Extension.

Registration for the RU Ready to Farm scheme begins in April each year, Pearsall said. The first phase of classes begins in mid-May. They run all summer. Pearsall said it’s a self-paced learning program. There are videos, readings and assignments for students to do. There are also regular visits with the students to answer all their questions and to help them with the most complicated subjects.

Then, people who come out of the first phase and want to continue the practical training will apply in November. Then, in January or February, they will plan the CSA program for the next year.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at [email protected]

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