Winter is no offseason at Snyder research farm

AFP Correspondent

PITTSTOWN (Feb. 1, 2015) — It may be the dead of winter, but research is a never-ending process. And there’s plenty of it going on at the Clifford E. and Melda C. Snyder Research and Extension Farm.
Known to many as the home, every August, of the Great Tomato Tasting, a public event that draws hundreds of people, the Snyder farm exists to help Garden State farmers with the myriad of pest, irrigation, weather, drainage and soil chemistry problems that may crop up in any given season.
From his office late last month, farm director Dr. John Grande said things are almost as busy at Snyder Research Farm during winter months as they are in the spring, summer and fall.
“We’re pretty busy in the winter time. There’s an awful lot of record keeping that needs to be done, some of it is required, and some of it is just for our own knowledge,” he said.
The Snyder facility’s equipment also needs to be maintained and upgraded as necessary over the winter months.
“It’s a lot different than a regular farm. Our farm is more or less like a checkerboard: We’re growing everything from corn to basil to melons to tomatoes and peppers. All of these crops require specific soil types and pesticides, and all of the fields have to be actively managed.”
The land was donated by the Snyders to Rutgers University in 1987 and Grande, who had some experience developing a smaller research farm with a previous employer started developing the Snyder research farm in the fall of 1988. 
That included developing a soil conservation plan and putting in two and a half miles of irrigation pipes as well as a storm water retention pond to recycle water. 
Low voltage deer fencing was put in place as well, so that deer would not compromise experiment results.
To showcase the farm to the public, the farm staff early on held an open house.
“And after four or five years of hosting an open house we worked with the Master Gardener programs in a number of counties, and that developed into this annual event now, the Great Tomato Tasting,” Grande added.
“Tomatoes are of great interest to people who live in New Jersey and it was a way of resurrecting interest in Jersey tomatoes for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service,” Grande said.
The annual tasting, held every year the last week in August is also an open house for the farm, and the public can tour other parts of the facility while visiting.
As New Jerseyans know, Grande pointed out, “Jersey tomatoes just have a great flavor and taste, so we grow anywhere from 80 to 120 varieties of tomatoes here.”  The 2014 Great Tomato Tasting showcased not only those dozens of varieties of tomatoes, but also melons, Grande added, “because our farm manager, Ed Dager, always picks a secondary crop, either peppers or melons, for people to taste.”
During the annual gathering, held in the afternoon the last Wednesday in August, hay ride tours of the 390-acre farm are also offered so people can get a tour of all of the various experiments going on.
As director, Grande oversees a staff of six full-time employees and a bevy of volunteers from various county-based Master Gardener organizations.
Grande said farmers can sign up for seminars and classes at the farm, which may be useful in helping them boost their yields.
“The way farmers in New Jersey can market their products today, on Monday you can be in Westfield, on Tuesday you can be in Newark or Cranford,” he said, noting each day of the week, farmers can be at another location through the weekend.
“Small scale farmers need to grow premium products and get compensated for the cost of doing business. Farmers today need to be very astute in their marketing, in order to make a profit in this business, A,)  you have to work very hard and, and B) you have to have a lot of different skills. We see a lot of people who have transitioned from other careers into small scale farming,” Grande said.