‘New Jersey is not going to be your enemy’
PRINCETON — New Jersey General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman Eric Houghtaling spoke to farmers and ag supporters from around the Garden State here on Nov. 18. Their afternoon comments were capped off by a longer talk by New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher, of Bridgeton. Coughlin is based in Woodbridge in Middlesex County while Houghtaling is based in Neptune in Monmouth County.
“I couldn’t get over the fact that 90 percent of my list is agricultural issues,” Houghtaling said of anticipated legislation for 2020. Assistance for deer fencing and deer control are top priorities, he said, as is higher education assistance, “because we’re running out of teachers at Rutgers for agriculture.” Another bill to be considered establishes a New Jersey native plants program, while another bill establishes an invasive species task force; he also mentioned $250,000 has been appropriated for counties to establish tick control programs under the auspices of the state’s Mosquito Control Commission. Another bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a program for state-owned land to be used and managed as native pollinator habitat.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go out and visit many farms on tours, and I’m actually envious of what you’ve all been doing. This past summer we did the shellfish research down on the Delaware at Rutgers Experimental Station, the harvesting of blueberries and cranberries with Rutgers, the equine industry, turf grasses, we’ve been all over the state creating relationships, and, as chairman of this committee — as a construction electrician — I feel very close to this community because you all work very hard.
“One of the things that really annoys me is that we’ve had to create a law about right-to-farm, to protect all that you do from people that really — they want to move into housing near your farm — and then, once they know what you do there, all of a sudden, they have a problem! Those are the kinds of things that, we’re not going to allow that to happen, you as a farmer have property; it’s your job to grow your product and the state of New Jersey is not going to be your enemy; on all the tours we go on, we always end up hearing about ‘the state does this, the state does that.’ I encourage anyone here to reach out to my office and have us come out to your farm and look over things and talk about problems you may have because we have the ways in committee to get things done,” Houghtaling said.
New Jersey General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said in recent years, he’s been more intimately involved than he’d care to admit with hunger issues and food insecurity in the state. Raised in South Amboy and the Fords section of Woodbridge Township, Coughlin said learning that nearly 900,000 people in the state are food insecure – 270,000 of them children – was an eye-opener.
“I was a kid who grew up in South Amboy and Fords, and we always had a tomato garden. Agriculture was something I never really paid much attention to. Like so many of us, I just took it for granted, all of the hard work all of you put in, in making sure we all got fed,” Coughlin said.
“Now I’ve had the chance in a more meaningful way to understand what it is you do and how important you are, A, to the state because ‘No Farmers, No Food,’ I’ve seen that before, but also, in terms of the economy of our state: farms are our third largest industry and employ hundreds of thousands of people and they are critical to the economies of the towns in which they’re based.”
Coughlin said two important bills are coming up in the state legislature: one directs the Division of Travel and Tourism to publish information on its website about farm-to-table restaurants and another expands the parameters on what is considered trespassing and vandalism on farms.
In closing, Coughlin said: “I know that farmers, like me, share concerns about food insecurity, and I know that because I’ve gotten to know some of the guys on this panel and I’ve met with some of you and I’ve gone to gleanings and you’ve embraced the bills we’ve passed. Feeding people is what you do, in its essence, and I’m proud to say I’m late to the game but consider myself in some small way a partner with you all in addressing something I know is something we all believe we need to cure. If we are to call ourselves a great state or a great nation we’ll have to do a few things: one of them is to make sure our people are fed. Because of you we will overcome that challenge.”
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