Rutgers moving ahead with urban, organic ag

AFP Corrrespondent

LINCROFT (March 15, 2016) — One of many seminars at the recent NOFA-NJ conference at Brookdale Community College in late January was a primer on the newly created Office of Agriculture and Urban Programs, based at the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, formerly Cook College.
California-raised Dr. Laura Lawson runs the program, which has been run out of the New Brunswick campus for about a year, with two associates, Meredith Taylor and Arianna Lindberg.
“We are establishing this office and feel we can learn best by listening to you people,” Lawson said. “It’s a very odd title for an office but one that is uniquely New Jersey in a lot of ways.
“We truly are the Garden State, even though we are the most urbanized state in the nation,” with a large percentage of the population living in urban areas like Newark, Hoboken, Jersey City, Trenton, Camden and Atlantic City. Lawson said New Jersey has lost a greater share of agricultural land to post World War II suburban development than any other state.
“It’s a very interesting statistic in terms of the push-pull factors of different regions, the pull of the Jersey Shore, the pull of New York City and Philadelphia,” she said and there are many residents involved in food production and processing, going to farmer’s markets, belonging to CSA programs or working to improve school lunch programs.
In her presentation, Lawson pointed out urban areas where community gardens have sprung up in recent years, including in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark and New Brunswick, “so people are wanting these gardens in lots of places, whether they live in the city, the suburbs and sometimes even more rural places.
“The reason we’re interested in connecting these things is it’s a nexus, and we know that a lot of people have concerns about agriculture and food. So by looking at urban areas and agriculture together, we have a whole range of interests and issues that can get richer by this conversation,” Lawson added.
Taylor comes from a public health background and helped set up farmer’s markets in Trenton and a new community greenhouse in Branch Brook Park in Newark, and Lindberg has a background in organic farming and landscape architecture.
Lindberg detailed plans for a new five-acre organic farm in New Brunswick, on land currently used for the Rutgers Gardens. Students from all academic disciplines will be encouraged to work at the farm, not just those studying at SEBS. Produce raised at the new farm will go to Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen in New Brunswick and other emergency food providing organizations, they said.
“One key issue for us is promoting the concept of urban agriculture amongst colleagues and the general public and making it as lively as possible,” Lawson said.
“The Office of Agriculture and Urban Programs is there to promote and assist with developing new opportunities that bridge urban and suburban communities with agriculture in order to enhance the economic landscape and culture of the state,” she said. “It’s meant to assist in networking to enhance links with cooperative extension, to share information and support research. One of the first things we did last year was develop a website, a place where we can put a lot of information out there about the program and activities we’re involved with.”