It was a matter of months before the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey turned the worn and unkempt land on Duke Farms in Hillsborough onto a functional incubator for beginning farmers.
Now NOFA-NJ is gearing up for one of its busiest summers yet. Its members held their first farmers market on Memorial Day, selling vegetables grown in the incubator. They plan to hold one every weekend and schedule tours of the site through the fall. The farm will also host the NOFA-NJ Summer Food Symposium on June 21, where experts on agriculture and nutrition will gather.
“It’s been a huge amount of work, putting all the pieces together,” said Eve Minson, director of the Beginner Farmer Rancher Development Program. “Now that it’s coming together, it’s spectacular.”
None of this would have been possible, however, without Kickstarter. NOFA-NJ used the crowd-funding website to rally support from local residents and admirers across the country alike to keep farming local.
Garden State growers
American farming is dealing with an aging work force. The USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service’s 2007 census of agriculture states that the average age of a farmer is 57. Meanwhile, the number of young farmers under 25 has dropped 30 percent. And New Jersey’s numbers are not much different.
“It’s important to encourage new and young farmers to get involved in agriculture to ensure that there is a bright and strong future to agriculture in New Jersey,” said Lynne Richmond, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
With that in mind, NOFA-NJ sought to create the program, according to Minson. The organization wanted to offer training for new farmers to bring in people who might not have background in it or access to land.
NOFA-NJ received a grant from the USDA to create the program. The first in the state, the program was designed to offer not only training for beginner farmers (those with less than 10 years of experience), but also the equipment and space for them to grow their crops.
“These farms have a lot of land,” Minson said. “They expanded the irrigation and there was infrastructure on the site. After a lot of conversations, (we thought) it made sense to do it.”
Although the funding covered the farmland, education, stipends for field days, barn and share equipment, among other things, it did not pay for capital improvements. That’s where the Kickstarter came in.