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N.J. Agricultural Society displays appreciation for diversity in state

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

WEST WINDSOR (April 15, 2017) — A cross-section of the New Jersey agriculture community gathered here last month at the West Windsor Boathouse, inside Mercer County Park, for the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s annual gala dinner and award ceremonies.
“The theme this evening is a Taste of New Jersey and we’re very pleased to have 32 different farms, breweries, all types of ag-related businesses donate products for this evening,” society president, Rob Swanekamp, said. “Last summer we started making arrangements to have everything together for this evening. My kudos to the chef.”
Century Farm Awards were presented to the Applegate family and Battleview Orchards, located on Wemrock Road in Freehold, and the Irick Family of Buena Vista, owner of Irick Farms, where the operation dates back to 1871.
The 2017 Teacher of the Year Award was presented to Keeko De La Pena of Spotswood, a science teacher at Terence Reilly School #7 in Elizabeth, where she has begun a vegetable gardening program. De La After a number of years working in zoos, she decided her real passion was teaching.
She became a teacher in 2008, and pointed out in the awards program book,
“I love the school garden as much as my students, because it pushes me to design new and exciting lesson plans and it gives us a place to go and learn about where our food comes from,” she said. De La Pena was greeted with rounds of applause for her efforts in agricultural education in the city of Elizabeth, an urban area and the county seat for Essex County.
In receiving his Century Award, Scott Applegate of Battleview Orchards credited his wife Lisa for the continued success of the farm’s retail store, operations in general, and website.
“With this award we celebrate 109 years of farming,” Scott Applegate said. “The first few generations concentrated on the wholesale market. My parents, the third generation, made a big decision to change our business and concentrate on pick-your-own and retail, and slowly, the wholesale market was phased out and direct marketing became our priority. My parents had good business sense and were truly ahead of their time, and my wife Lisa is why the Battleview Orchards is successful today,” he added, also crediting his children.
“Our business philosophy has remained the same: Grow quality fruit, keep our prices fair, and respect our customers,” Applegate said.
Jerome “Jerry” Irick of Irick Farms, a 75-acre facility in the south Jersey community of Buena Vista, related a humorous anecdote in accepting the second Century Award. Irick credited his wife Beverly and his children and grandchildren with the success of the farm.
“My wife and I would like to share this memory with you. Planting sweet potatoes is family tradition on our farm, and it takes the whole family to plant them, so my mother and father and my wife and I, my kids and godmother Aunt Harriet, my dad’s oldest sister, helped us. My Dad drove the tractor and I planted potatoes on the planter. I never could master the art and my father constantly reminded me how I wasn’t passing muster. Finally my aunt said to him one day, ‘I’m going to plant the next row!’ And she said to me, ‘You know your father will not holler at me, because I am his older sister.’ Aunt Harriet did get on the planter and she planted every sweet potato in a perfect row, but they were all upside down.”
“But she was right: My father never did say a word to my aunt and he never gave me any further problem about planting sweet potatoes. Thank you humbly for this award.”
The New Jersey Ag Society’s Gold Medallion Award is presented to a person who has dedicated his life’s efforts to supporting New Jersey agriculture. This year’s recipient was Noble McNaughton, a nursery owner and operator based in Tabernacle and former two-time Mayor of Tabernacle Township.
McNaughton was cited for introducing state agriculture secretary, Doug Fisher, to the ag community around different parts of the state, and for his long involvement in organizations like the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association, as a past president of the New Jersey Agricultural Society and for long involvement with the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture.
“As I served on various boards I met many people throughout the state. I really cherish those memories of those people,” McNaughton said. “I notice now some of the people I served with in agriculture were the parents of some of the people that are sitting here now in the audience tonight, and that shows how we in agriculture keep passing the torch to new generations. And that’s a wonderful thing.”