Monmouth Board of Ag helps stimulate kids’ interest with ‘Guess Your Vegetables’
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Now in its eighth year, the Monmouth County Board of Agriculture’s “Guess Your Vegetables” program for kids appears to be a winner.
Kids have to know their vegetable plants as they look in a farmer’s field or in a backyard garden.
Kids under 10 who demonstrate they know their vegetables get a free strawberry plant seedling courtesy of Gary DeFelice’s farm operation as well as instructions on how to plant and care for it until the following May, when presumably, they can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“The kids love it, they come back every year,” Anna Trapani said, “two years ago we had some purple pepper plants. So long as the kids can identify their vegetables, we give them a strawberry plant, and Gary DeFelice is very generous in growing these plants every year and giving out the seedlings to the kids,” Trapani explained.
“Initially we discovered kids coming in to our Ag tent not knowing what farmers did,” DeFelice said. “I was serving as president at that time and when I asked one of the kids who came in where their tomatoes or other vegetables came from, they said ‘Shop-Rite.’ So we figured our society’s become so disconnected that we need to help the kids know their plants and know where their food comes from.”
The following July — eight summers ago — DeFelice and others on the Monmouth County Board of Ag instituted the informal program. Accordingly, they have plots under the tent with potted eggplants, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, arugula, various types of squash, Brussels sprouts, radishes, beets, [red and yellow,] watermelon and cantaloupe, “just about everything that’s grown on New Jersey farms.”
DeFelice is treasurer for the Monmouth County Board of Agriculture and runs Cedar Hill Farm, his Christmas tree nursery and strawberry farm on land off of Red Hill Road in Middletown Township not far from the Garden State Parkway.
Children younger than 10 years old who guessed two or three vegetable plants correctly get a strawberry plant seedling “and I always tell the kids to come back next year for another strawberry plant.”
“Every year when we see new faces of kids coming in, that’s our incentive to keep the program going, because it’s a lot of work to put all this together,” said DeFelice.
Given that Monmouth County has more than 700 farms and that number has been growing in recent years, interest in organic and conventional farming is great here, DeFelice said.
Randy Peck is the president of the county agriculture board and it includes veteran farmers like Angelo and Anna Trapani from Trapper’s Farm in Millstone and Tri-County Farmers’ Cooperative president George Asprocolas of Asprocolas Acres Farm, also in Millstone.
Even though DeFelice does his work at Cedar Hill Farm and Nursery part-time and on weekends, he had well-reasoned advice for those starting up smaller organic or conventional farms, or those who have begun farming as a second career path, given the depth and duration of the last recession in New Jersey.
DeFelice urges younger farmers and smaller farmers around the state to get involved with their county boards of agriculture.
“Your county boards are your liaison group to New Jersey Farm Bureau,” DeFelice said. “Your county board is where Farm Bureau gives a report, the State Board gives a report, our county ag development board gives a report.
“It’s a great monthly discussion of all that’s going on with farms and farmers all across Monmouth County.”
“We’re seeing new people coming to meetings all the time, saying they bought property and your smaller hobby family farmers are coming in all the time, they bought property in Freehold or Millstone, and that’s why I believe we’re growing in our number of farms,” DeFelice said.
“Every farmer — if they are not a member of Farm Bureau or their county board — they’re depriving themselves of a great advocacy organization within the state and county,” he argued, “they’re not government agencies, these groups are here to advocate for you and protect your rights and your farming operations.”
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