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Archive for January, 2010

Nice story via NJ.Com.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation enabled the Truszkowski family to keep their 139 acre dairy farm in Warren County running. Conservation funds were used to buy-out siblings who had no interest in farming after the owner died. The farm now belongs to the one son who wanted to keep farming the land. Plans are that his 23 year-old son, who “works seven days a week here”, will eventually take over the farm and keep it in the family.

Without programs such as this the family would have had to sell and another 139 acres of NJ countryside would have been swallowed up by developers — not to mention that NJ’s declining dairy industry would lose another farm.

Stories such as this show the need for stable sources of funding for farmland preservation and conservation grants.

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After reading through Governor Christie’s transition team’s report on agriculture over the weekend it is clear that the Governor and many of his key advisers view New Jersey’s agriculture and food industries as key parts of New Jersey’s economic life.

Governor Christie’s transition team recommends a reinvestment in the State Department of Agriculture and rightly calls out the previous two administrations for disinvesting in state agriculture. The transition team estimates that NJ’s food and agriculture sector has $82 billion in sales, contributes 8.5% of New Jersey’s Gross State Product, employs 400,000 workers and 15% of New Jersey’s private sector workforce.

In particular, the transition team recommends at a minimum, a restoration of the Jersey Fresh marketing program to historic funding levels and cite findings from the Rutgers study, Returns to the Jersey Fresh Promotional Program:The Impacts of Promotional Expenditures on Farm Cash Receipts in New Jersey, that each dollar spent on Jersey Fresh promotions results in $54.49 in added economic output to the state. The Jersey Fresh program is considered to be one the nations leading state agricultural promotion programs and in 2003 $1.16 million dollars of state spend grew fruit and vegetable cash receipts by $36.6 million dollars while increasing economic activity in New Jersey’s agricultural support industries by $26.6 million.

In addition to their call for a reinvestment in New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture, Governor Christie’s transition team made a series of process and structural recommendations – the majority of which make sense.

The report calls for the consolidation of public nutrition programs in the Department of Agriculture to mirror the USDA’s approach to public nutrition, expansion of school breakfast programs as a way of accessing additional federal funds, and the use of school nutrition, hunger and other public nutrition programs as a way of creating a market for Jersey producers and growers. A great concept, but it does need to be enacted and monitored in such a way that we don’t use New Jersey’s most vulnerable as a captive market for our state headquartered businesses.

The report also calls for the consolidation of animal welfare programs and services in the Department, stable funding sources for farmland preservation and conservation grants, and an exploration of ways to stabilize New Jersey’s equine industry and reduce the recurring subsidies it takes to keep the equine industry operational in this state. Horse racing plays a critical role in New Jersey agriculture, accounting for 176,000 agricultural acres, 13,000 jobs, $160 million in tax receipts and a $1.1 billion dollar impact according to the Rutgers Equine Science Center.

Alternative energy generation on agricultural lands and from New Jersey agricultural byproducts is also emphasized. We’ll look at the links between New Jersey alternative energy and New Jersey agriculture in subsequent posts.

The report does take shots at the DEP, Highlands Act and Pinelands – all of which are traditional Republican bogeymen in New Jersey politics and public policy. As we focus on improving New Jersey’s agricultural competitiveness and business formation environment, we can not forget that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation. There’s a reason impervious surface coverage is tightly regulated in this state — flooding and water quality issues are exacerbated whenever wetlands, forest uplands or open space is paved over or carved up.

The simple solution to dealing with Agriculture/DEP conflicts is to carve out agricultural exemptions within different regulations and permitting processes. These agricultural exemptions could then be further tiered by Commercial, Preserved, IPM, Natural and Organic categories depending on the operation and land use in question.

Rather than using reinvestment and restructuring in the Department of Agriculture as part of a process of attacks on the DEP, The Governor and his team should look at ways of creating collaboration processes across the two departments that allow agricultural, business and environmental protection needs to be balanced in ways that conserve our remaining lands and keep our waters safe. In short, don’t attack the DEP, work with them to conserve what’s left of the Garden State.

Overall, it does appear that Governor Christie and his team get the importance of agriculture in ways that Governors Corzine and McGreevey did not. I’d give the transition team’s agriculture recommendations a B+, an A- if not for the hidden agenda attacks on the DEP.

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So we took a ride out to Princeton today to check out the farmers market at D&R Greenway Trust held in conjunction with Slow Food NJ.

The market was held at D&R’s Johnson Educational Center, a beautiful restored farm that once served as a working barn on the Robert Wood Johnson Estate. It’s a great building surrounded by a playground and lots of open fields and open spaces. I’d forgotten how beautiful the countryside around Princeton is. I used to run the Princeton Half Marathon and have done a few bike rides in the area.

The market itself was small with only a handful of vendors but that’s to be expected in the middle of winter. Friendly vendors. I was hoping to be able to pick up some potatoes and beets and perhaps even some brussel sprouts, but it was not to be.

We were able to pick up some honey (only four jars remained) from WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton. WoodsEdge specializes in breeding Llamas and Alpacas and does some sustainable niche agriculture. They had some awesome Alpaca wool socks that I forgot to circle back around and pick-up on the way out. My smart wools have all disintegrated and disappeared.

Breads from Village Bakery, some brie from Cherry Grove Farm and apples from Terhune Orchards all purchased for a nice Saturday night meal. Plenty of apples to make some apple cinnamon oatmeal for next week too.

Pure Indian Foods is a locally-owned family business founded in 1889 in India. They make organic ghee using grassfed butter. We picked up some garlic ghee which was quite tasty.

We sampled Hopewell Valley Vineyard’s Wines and some amazing vegan walnut/raisin/pecan cookies from Catherine’s Vegan Sweets which are baked at a commercial kitchen in Trenton where Catherine, the owner of Catherine’s Vegan Sweets leases some kitchen space in a commercial kitchen.

Slow Food Central NJ’s next Winter Farmers Market is on February 28th at Tre Piani Restaurant in Plainsboro from 11am to 3pm.

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New Jersey’s critical issues are intertwined. Not only must we diversify our economy so that we don’t continue to be overly dependent on the pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, we need to create jobs, we need to preserve open space and we need to eat and source more local foods.

Between 1971 and 2002 New Jersey lost 384,000 acres of farmland. New Jersey’s farmland is disappearing more quickly than any other source of land cover in the entire state. Our forests and wetlands are also showing huge declines and combined New Jersey’s farms, forests and wetlands lost 672,000 acres between 1971 and 2002 in a state of only 4.8 million acres.

So, the percent of developed land in NJ increased by nine points while the percent of farms, forests and wetlands decreased by fourteen points during this thirty year period. Meanwhile, NJ’s manufacturing employment declined by forty eight percent – the second largest U.S. decline in the United States — over a similar thirty year period.

New Jersey’s farmlands have declined by forty two percent, our manufacturing by 48%, our cities are hollowed out and we deal with suburban sprawl on a daily basis. What needs to be done? What can be done?

Can Governor Christie’s administration reverse this decline? Or will they just continue mindlessly along the same path as previous administrations? Or worse, will they reverse the gains we have made in watershed protection, wetlands conservation and farmland preservation in the name of job creation?

Sustainable job creation should not and cannot come solely from construction and development. We can’t continue to pave and build over our remaining farms, fields and streams and expect New Jersey to remain a livable, competitive state. We’re seeing more and more pharma businesses decamping for New England’s New Haven to Cambridge corridor and for all and intents and purposes we’re no longer competitive as a state in telecommunications. In fact we really lost our telecomm advantage over 10 years ago when we failed to invest in all the talent being spun off from AT&T and Lucent to build small businesses and competitive R&D capabilities in mobile communications and data networking

So what’s the solution? The best long-term solution is for our political leaders to think hard about our sources of competitive advantage as a state. Two of our key sources of competitive advantage just happen to be location and our soil. We’re an incredibly fertile state and for much of our history our truck farms, dairies and poultry farmers supplied nearby states with produce, fruit, eggs, milk and butter.

Tourism is a $38 billion dollar industry in NJ – the state’s third largest according to Global Insights. That’s a lot of potential meals, snacks and take-back-home foods that could be fueled by locally grown and produced foods. Rather than thinking about construction jobs and housing developments as a way to put New Jerseyans back to work we really need to be thinking about long-term jobs that pay good wages and benefits on an annual, not seasonal basis. When I was growing up being a butcher was a good middle class job and you could actually put your kids through college, now, not so much.

If we start to think about New Jersey’s industries from a competitive advantage point of view, we will quickly begin to see that continued development across our remaining open spaces is not the best business development solution for New Jersey’s long-term success.

Instead, we should aggressively seek to preserve our remaining farms, fields, forests and streams while redeveloping a locally owned food processing industry that can source local foods to our $38 billion dollar tourism industry, our supermarkets, our homes and nearby cities like New York and Philadelphia. And I would argue that new NJ food processing businesses can become a critical part of cities in desperate need of new enterprises and small businesses that provide good jobs.

Next Week – Land Branding, Farmland Preservation and the Jersey Fresh Program – a critical building block for success.

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One page essay on climate change, local agriculture, economic development and coastal Monmouth county.

Unfortunately they don’t publish online so you’ll just have to hit your favorite, bar, coffee shop, restaurant or other hangout to pick up a copy.

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Hat Tip to: NJ.com

The Delaware & Raritan Greenway Trust is hosting a winter farmers market at their headquarters. Held in conjunction with Slow Food of Central New Jersey Saturday’s event at the D&R Greenway Trust Barn — The Johnson Education Center — is part of a series of winter markets featuring local growers and vendors that Slow Food Central NJ is holding throughout the Princeton/Trenton area.

Directions to the Johnson Education Center are here

Suggested admission is $2 and there will be live music.

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I’ve been wrestling with some car issues and was not able to get out to this forum yesterday. However we will continue to look at sources of competitive advantage for New Jersey Agriculture and flesh out the outline I posted yesterday.

From the report below the conference was heavy on capex and construction solutions and using unused Wall Street bailout money for business tax breaks. Senator Menendez would like to see any use of these bailout funds for business tax breaks structured to ensure that small businesses qualify. Senator Menendez and Representative Adler also emphasized the need for banks to start lending and providing credit to small businesses.

Laudable and needed as these approaches are, they reflect a very short-term, tactical approach and neglect the broader issue of creating sustainable jobs over the long-term. What can be done to create Ag and Food sector jobs in New Jersey that help support communities and provide a good middle class life for workers in this sector? What needs to be done to ensure industry competitiveness and business formation in NJ’s Ag and Food sectors?

Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher did point to a structural issue facing NJ’s Ag sector — USDA’s definition of rural. He stated that given NJ’s density and closeness to Philadelphia and New York City NJ rural communities and farms don’t meet the USDA’s definition.

If sustainable agriculture and family farms are truly on the USDA’s agenda, then fixing the definition of rural to include open spaces, national reserves and watershed protecion areas in densely populated regions seems like a logical first step.

U.S. Department of Agriculture holds forum on economy and job growth

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