Monmouth Board of Ag holds stakeholders meeting
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — About 60 farmers attended a recent Monmouth County Board of Agriculture Stakeholders Meeting on Oct. 15 at the Monmouth County Ag Extension and 4-H office complex.
The stakeholder meeting was held just prior to a regular monthly meeting of the Monmouth County Board of Agriculture.
Farmers also had the chance at the meeting to meet newly-appointed County Agricultural Agent Bill Errickson. Errickson, of West Belmar, takes the place of Bill Sciarappa of Neptune, who now works in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources in New Brunswick.
Most of the speaking and fielding of questions at the stakeholders meeting was handled by Monmouth County Extension Department Head Matthew Newman and Brian Schilling, Rutgers’ Cooperative Extension Service’s director.
Schilling shared several ideas for a better working relationship and good, educational gatherings with the county’s farmers and nursery owners. He presented a “Vision for The NJ Ag Experiment Station,” and said that in recent years, the department has held fewer twilight meetings for farmers around the various counties.
“One of the things we can do a much better job with at Rutgers in the Experiment Station is with demonstrations. For various reasons over the years, we’ve gotten away from that and part of what we’re doing with hazelnuts isn’t just talking about them but showing them and doing it together,” Schilling said, referring to the hazelnut tree research at Rutgers’ Cream Ridge research farm off Route 539 in the county.
“I’d like to see more of our farms host more demonstrations and more engagement with the ag community,” Schilling said. Some of you remember the twilight meetings. We don’t have them as frequently as we used to, because it’s not just sitting around and talking about things, it’s about looking at and doing things on a farm site.”
Twilight meeting presentations at a chosen farm in the county would typically last 60 to 90 minutes at the end of a working day and were basically field-based educational sessions, he said.
Newman was clear and concise in answering farmers’ questions and concerns about youth and the future of farming in the county.
“The level of investment in ag from the Board of Freeholders here in Monmouth County is outstanding,” Newman said, adding “we have a full-time county agent, full-time program associate and program assistant and a full-time 4-H clerk, but with all that being said, there’s always room for improvement.
“We are always looking to grow the 4-H program, so if people you know are interested in helping out with younger farmers, encourage them to reach out to our office,” Newman said.
The county’s relatively new buildings in Freehold Township off Kozloski Road are spacious and well-equipped, he described, so many 4-H and other ag and environmental meetings are held in the agriculture building.
“It’s just a natural fit and a great facility for meetings,” Newman said. “But we can meet anywhere in the county, there’s no reason it has to be here in Freehold, it has more to do with the availability of our volunteers,” Newman said, noting Cream Ridge facilities are also a possibility for 4-H meetings.
On the subject of 4-H and future farmers, Schilling said “there’s a cluster of counties in South Jersey where we have no 4-H agent. We have about 39,000 youth participants with 4-H around the state and the way we’re able to do that is because we have about 3,000 volunteers.
“One of the things we’ve relied on is training people with a passion to go out and teach others to become Master Gardeners or lead 4-H groups,” Schilling added.
Schilling said when a farmer or nursery owner of other ag-related business owner walks into an Extension office in their county, there should be a way of “getting certain core services that we provide. We have a lot of people coming into the industry now who don’t know there’s a lot of support out here for them, they have New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture, they have the Farm Bureau and they have the Ag Experiment Station.”
Randy Peck, current president of the Monmouth County Board of Agriculture, asked about and suggested the possibility of more presentations from Rutgers’ Cooperative Extension.
“The educational programs that Extension puts on, whether it be in Atlantic City with the vegetable growers, or our own Central Jersey Vegetable Growers conference, our industry really loves that. Can you do something on the local level, maybe not every month, but a few times each year?” Peck asked.
“The answer is ‘yes,’” said Schilling.
“I had somebody come to me recently who was virtually in tears, saying ‘I wanted to farm but I can’t,’ and as we got into the issue, we found out their town was giving them a hard time,” Schilling said. “They had no idea they could come to the county Ag Development Board or the SADC, [state agriculture development committee,] or that they had right-to-farm protections. So this is a constant educational process about resources that are out there.
“Coming out to county Board of Ag meetings makes sense, so, yes. You ask, and we’ll be there. We want to learn from you, the grower community, what works.”
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