Murray shares thoughts on state’s ag history
TRENTON (March 1, 2018) — The Young Farmers and Ranchers committee of the New Jersey Farm Bureau held their first meeting of the new year at “The Farmhouse” — offices of the New Jersey Farm Bureau — on West State Street, directly across the street from the New Jersey State House.
After brief remarks from Farm Bureau President Ryck Suydam, the gathering of about 20 young farmers between 18 and 35 years old was treated to anecdotes and jokes from Al Murray, who helped usher the “Jersey Fresh” marketing campaign to national prominence under former Ag Secretary Arthur Brown.
Murray now is the director of the New Jersey Agricultural Society.
Murray and others at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture succeeded in the 1990s and into the 2000s, as the “Jersey Fresh” logo is easily now identified in surveys with consumers across the United States.
“Usually when I go to an agricultural meeting I’m not the only guy with gray hair in the room,” Murray said. “It’s very encouraging to be here and see so many people interested in careers in agriculture.”
The New Jersey Agricultural Society was formed eight years before George Washington would become the first President of the United States, Murray said, “and despite a war and all the turmoil that was going on, there had to be attention given in New Jersey to agriculture, so the association formed.”
As agriculture has evolved, so have the pursuits of the Agricultural Society, he added, but the mission is the same as it was back then: “To preserve and enhance agricultural, farming and related activities and businesses in New Jersey, through educational, informational and promotional programs.”
Sharing his thoughts on leadership, Murray said the New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program, should get their consideration. The program identifies young people in the industry who are getting a start in agriculture and serious about it as a career occupation.
“It’s a two-year program and there’s been some turnover with the program, but in the fall of 2019, they’re looking to get the next class started,” Murray said.
“Some day, you guys are going to be running the show and you guys are the ones who are taking over,” Murray said, so a key part of the program is visiting the state legislature in Trenton to see how a bill goes through various committees and becomes law.
“They also learn how to testify and advocate on behalf of a beneficial bill,” Murray said, “and now the latest thing they’ll be doing is taking a trip in March to Washington, D.C., where they’ll visit the American Farm Bureau and visit various embassies as well.”
Murray encouraged the younger farmers gathered around the long conference room table, where the walls were adorned with historic photos, to consider joining the Ag Society “and in so doing, you’re joining an organization that has been in existence a long time.”
He acknowledged the roles both the New Jersey Farm Bureau and the Agricultural Society play in keeping local and state politicians in check, and argued, “if everybody sits on their hands, then people in the Legislature assume everyone is fine with their bills.”
Instead farmers need to be aware and proactive, to get actively involved and write and call sometimes well-meaning state legislators regarding legislation that may be detrimental to farmers and their operations, he said.
“There are zillions of ways to get involved in this industry,” he said, “and just based on the fact that you’re here tonight, you’re well on your way toward that.
“I hope you’ll consider becoming a member and helping us do our mission of having the public appreciate and learn about the importance of agriculture as part of New Jersey’s economy.”
The Ag Society was basically a de-facto state department of agriculture before one was formed in 1916, Murray said.
At one point, the Ag Society owned 65 acres of land in Newark, the state’s largest city, “and they used that as a central location for an annual agriculture fair, so at least there was a place to learn about the latest agricultural practices.
Naturally, the Ag Society has evolved over the years as the state has grown from rural to mostly suburban and urban, Murray said, “yet we recognize we have to link our industry to the public and constantly promote agriculture so they will have an appreciation for it around the state.”
Among the programs the Ag Society oversees that benefit New Jersey citizens are the Farmers Against Hunger Program, the “Learning Through Gardening” program that is administered in public middle schools, and the 20-year-old Agricultural Leadership Program, which gives management training to ambitious young farmers.
Farmers Against Hunger was founded in 1996, he said, and while one-quarter of New Jersey residents live at or below the poverty line, another 11 percent of these people are also food insecure.
Teachers in public elementary and middle schools can get students involved in the “Learning Through Gardening” program by ordering raised beds and soil and seeds from the Ag Society.
“There’s a lot of science involved in agriculture and [students] can learn an appreciation for the importance of fresh produce and fresh food. The kids also learn if they grow something in the garden and they see it through harvest, and they actually eat it, chances are that child is going to continue to eat that particular product, it’s funny how they seem to come around to eating their vegetables,” he pointed out.