Meeting brings ag agents, organic growers together

AFP Correspondent

HILLSBOROUGH (April 15, 2016) — Pat Huizing, the newly installed executive director of Northeast Organic Farmers Association-New Jersey, addressed a capacity crowd at the annual meeting of organic farmers at the Duke Estate on March 16.
“The beginning farmer program is still going strong thanks to a grant from the Baldwin Foundation,” Huizing told the crowd, “and we’ll be doing the ‘Road to Certification’ class this spring and a full season of tours and talks are planned through the education committee.”
Huizing encouraged NOFA-NJ members to offer feedback and suggest areas of the organic farming profession where they could use more help.
A large part of the meeting was a panel discussion with two award-winning farmers, Jessica Niederer and Kyle Goedde, moderated by Mercer County Ag Extension Agent Meredith Melendez.
Melendez said she does a lot of work with food safety and works with an organic grower advisory board, which has seen steady growth since it was founded in 2012. 
“It’s a nice way to get organic growers and Ag Extension service people at the same table to have more interaction,” Melendez said, noting there are 22 ag Extension agents in New Jersey.
Goedde, co-owner of the Harvest Moon Organic Farm in Hillsborough, said NOFA-NJ and his time living in Hawaii played a central role in his education, and his wife’s education, as organic farmers.
Harvest Moon Organic Farm is located there on the former Doris Duke Estate.
“I took the ‘Tilling the Soil of Opportunity’ class and that gave me a set of expectations as to what I needed to master to make a living farming. It’s not just about growing the produce, it’s about making a living doing it,” Goedde said.
“It was also great to have a mentor coming out to my farm and going out to his farm, and there were other classes like the ‘Tractor Safety Class’ and I got the technical support I needed to get certified,” he added.
Goedde added he and his wife Rita were “very lucky, being connected with NOFA, we had a community. I’ve met plenty of farmers in New Jersey who don’t know other farmers in New Jersey, and that was kind of surprising to learn that these people don’t have a support group. There are people down the Shore and out in West Jersey who don’t have that community and they seem to be looking for it. A lot of people read a book, they get inspired and they decide they want to farm and I think they’re sometimes setting themselves up for failure that way.”
Niederer of Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington won the national Young Farmer of the Year award recently.
She was 25 when she started Chickadee Creek Farm on land leased from her father. She began raising vegetables on 1.5 acres.
“I was too nervous to take out money as a loan on a farm business with a business model I’d never tried out before,” Niederer said. “We have managed to grow the business without taking out debt on the farm, and that meant there were a lot of things that had to supplement our lack of money. NOFA-NJ has a whole array of information that’s available at the winter conference. You listen to people who ask smart questions at the conference and go talk to them later on.”
Niederer urged organic farmers to get to know their conventional farming neighbors and make them friends.
“I would say there’s a tendency in the organic community to stay within the organic community,” but it’s useful to reach out “to families who’ve been farming for generations. And that also means you make yourself a resource for a conventional farmer to ask questions about organic farming.”
To close the annual meeting, New Jersey food writer Fran McManus delivered a short presentation on Ironbound Hard Cider and New Ark Farms, the organic apple orchard in Asbury, and its Newark-based partner company, Jersey Cider Works, which has created jobs for residents of inner-city Newark.
“We see a future where Newark is a hub for distribution of New Jersey grown ag products and we want to act as an interface between the rural and urban grower and market,” McManus pointed out, adding that Newark, New Jersey’s largest city and founded in the 1600’s, was once a great market town with easy access to New York City.
“The growth strategy isn’t to have Ironbound Hard Cider become a national brand,” McManus said. Rather, the work in Newark is testing out the idea of creating jobs for long-term unemployed, she said. What’s going on at the processing plant in Newark could become a model for other struggling cities.
“The plan is to take this model to other cities,” McManus said.