Oct 7, 2009
New Jersey Farmers Buffer Bottom Lines with Agritourism

Pumpkins – for painting, carving and cooking – hayrides, pony rides, petting zoos and corn mazes are just a sampling of fall family fun on New Jersey farms, which also sell corn stalks, mums and hay bales for home seasonal decorating. Perhaps the most popular activity, though, is going into the fields and orchards and picking your own vegetables and fruit. This has actually been known to get kids to eat vegetables.

Autumn on New Jersey farms is a hubbub of activity, thanks to the success of agritourism, which has been growing steadily for several years, to the mutual benefit of farmers and a public seeking escape from the harried pace of urban/suburban life. It’s proving to be a win-win program for everyone. Events and festivals happen almost every weekend at farms and wineries, from September till almost Christmas, when locally grown holiday greenery takes the spotlight.

The tenuous nature of farming in the Garden State generally makes itself known every year, with short growing seasons, high land costs and increasing planting costs. This year was compounded by heavy rains, a tornado and associated plant diseases, devastating many crops (but good for cranberries) to the extent that United States Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack designated 15 New Jersey counties as natural disaster areas.

Farmers recognize that beyond traditional planting, harvesting and selling of crops, they need an additional source of income, and they’re creating it right on their farms. They’re capitalizing on the premise that the farther urban dwellers get from the land, the more they seem to want to reacquaint their families with where their food actually comes from. Even the schools are recognizing the value of offering children an experience on a farm.

“Of the $1,117,634,000.00 in cash receipts from New Jersey farm products sold in 2008 (according to latest USDA statistics), agritourism represented approximately 2%. This segment plays a significant role in keeping our farms viable.” said Richard Nieuwenhuis, president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau. “It is widely held that positive interaction between farmers and the public is crucial to maintain support for our industry and for the state’s farmland preservation program, which will be Question No. 1 Open Space, on the November ballot. ”

The USDA 2007 census for New Jersey shows annual revenues from agritourism at $24.7 million. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s 2005 database lists 518 operations engaged in such activities. A 2006 study by Rutgers University showed the income from agritourism on New Jersey farms totaled $57.3 million, with 43 percent of the state’s “total farmland associated with farm operations engaged in agritourism.” In a survey sampling of 48 farmers from all New Jersey counties, except heavily urbanized Essex, Union and Hudson, two thirds reported earning 50 percent or more of their income from agritourism operations. Nearly all farmers surveyed said the main reason for going into the field was to increase revenues. But they also viewed the activity as an opportunity for building positive relations with the non-farming public.

While on-farm activities are fun, it shouldn’t be overlooked that community farmers markets and farm stands also provide abundant varieties of locally grown fruits and vegetables well into October and November: apples, arugula, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, cranberries, cucumbers, eggplant, escarole& endive, greens and herbs, leeks, late lettuces, lima beans, onions, parsley, peaches, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squashes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips and zucchini.

-New Jersey Farm Bureau

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