The State We're In

Help the Garden State’s farmers this year!

Mar 26, 2020

Farming is unpredictable, with crops dependent on good soils and the right amounts of sun and rain. Droughts, floods, wind storms, blights and pest infestations can all derail a farm’s growing season.

This year, with the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, farmers face additional challenges. Many farmers’ livelihoods depend on selling to restaurants, but in New Jersey and beyond many have either shut down or switched to take-out meals.

“Some of our farmers are really going to be hurting this year,” said Stephanie Harris, secretary of the board of directors of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, or NOFA-NJ for short.

How can you help farmers in the Garden State? Start by “eating local” and buying as many fruits, vegetables and other farm products as possible from New Jersey farmers.

One thing you can do right now is purchase a share in a CSA farm. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it helps keep local farmers strong while guaranteeing that you’ll get the freshest and tastiest vegetables for your table this summer.

In the early spring, farmers have lots of expenses – seeds, supplies and equipment – and not much income. With a CSA, members of the community buy up-front “shares” – also known as memberships or subscriptions – to keep farmers going until their crops are ready to harvest.

In return, CSA shareholders get healthy, seasonal produce each week throughout the harvest season. Many CSAs allow members to customize their shares according to household size, vegetable preferences and vacation schedules, and a few toss in extras like inviting members to help themselves to “U-pick” crops. Some even offer direct deliveries to homes.

“We’d really like to encourage people to sign up for CSAs early to help our farmers,” said Stephanie.

You can also buy fresh produce at local farm markets.  Beginning in a month or two, hundreds of farm markets will pop up in cities and towns across the Garden State. Not only do they offer locally-grown fruits and veggies, but they’re also chock-full of farm products like cheeses, eggs, pickles, salsas, jams, honey, baked goods, flowers, and locally-made soaps and candles.

Farm markets will have to take coronavirus precautions, but they won’t be prohibited from opening, said Stephanie: “The governor has determined that they are an essential service.”

Supporting local farmers not only helps New Jersey’s economy, but also can help reduce emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.  Buying locally-grown produce creates less air pollution since produce isn’t being trucked across the country.

Buy organic produce whenever possible, because going organic and eating less meat helps to further reduce the climate impacts of our food choices.

Many farms are adopting sustainable agricultural practices, like no-till or less-till planting, growing winter cover crops, rotating crops and planting companion crops.

And many organic farmers are practicing “regenerative” agriculture, which boosts microbes in the soil that store carbon. Some studies report that if farmers around the world switched to regenerative methods, soils could absorb enough carbon to significantly decrease the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

According to Stephanie, the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted another issue in New Jersey: food security – that is, making sure there’s enough food to feed all 9 million of the Garden State’s residents. “We have to increase the food security of New Jersey, because we import so much from other countries and other states,” she said.

To improve New Jersey’s food independence and security, NOFA-NJ encourages families to start their own backyard Victory Gardens, just as families did during World War II. For folks living in places without space for backyard gardens, many towns and nonprofit organizations offer “community gardens,” where people can rent or borrow a small garden plot for the season.

Now is a great time to buy locally-grown seedlings for hardy crops that can go in the ground now, and to start seeds indoors for tender summer veggies that can be planted later.  “We have a lot of farms growing and selling seedlings that are ready to plant in home gardens,” Stephanie said.

Ready to join a CSA or try your hand at a Victory Garden?

There’s no single comprehensive listing of CSA farms in New Jersey, but there are several ways to find farms near you. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s “Jersey Fresh” program has an interactive map at https://findjerseyfresh.com/availability/ and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey has an interactive map of organic farms at https://farmandfoodguide.com/. Local Harvest offers a searchable database at https://www.localharvest.org/csa/.

To find a community garden near you, go to the interactive map on the American Community Gardening Association website at https://www.communitygarden.org/garden. It’s not comprehensive, however, so check with municipal officials and local community organizations. To learn how to grow your own veggies, visit NOFA-NJ’s website at https://nofanj.org/ for a listing of organic gardening webinars.

To find organic seedlings, try Well Sweep Herb Farm in Port Murray, the Whole Earth Center in Princeton, Kittatinny Mountain Farm in Wantage, Snapping Turtle Farm in Cranbury, the Sandbrook Meadow Farm stand at the Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers’ Market in Flemington, or the Basil Bandwagon natural markets in Clinton, Flemington and Lambertville. All have websites or Facebook pages with contact information. For organic seeds, Johnny’s Seeds and Fedco – both online – are good sources.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources – including farmland – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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About the Author

michelle_author

Michele S. Byers

Executive Director

Michele joined New Jersey Conservation in 1982 as coordinator of our advocacy efforts in the Pine Barrens. In 1999 Michele became Executive Director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. View her full bio here.

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