New Jersey Agritourism 101
Over the years taxpayers have been asked to vote in favor of Farmland Preservation, Green Acres and Garden State Preservation. There are numerous statewide campaigns like “Keep it Green” and “Jersey Fresh.” There are initiatives like green job initiatives and green start programs. These programs are all aimed at limiting urban sprawl, preserving the still-pristine parts of our state and living up to our name – the Garden State.
But is this enough? The Highlands Tourism Partnership, a grassroots organization with a mission of promoting the natural assets of Northwest New Jersey, does not think so. Many people support these initiatives for various reasons – to save the earth, to keep their taxes low, to do their part, to keep their beautiful backyard landscape. The land has been preserved, but what about supporting the farmers that farm and protect this preserved land?
Some Food For Thought
Fact from the NJ Farm Bureau: Most of New Jersey’s farm income is earned through the sale of commodities at wholesale prices, not the retail prices seen at the grocery store. And commodity prices for many crops have increased little since the 1964 inception of the farmland assessment program. Data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that agricultural commodity prices have increased only 18% over the last 25 years. Note that during the same time farm input costs have increased by 150%.
Sounds pretty unsustainable, doesn’t it? In today’s economy you can relate to such a scenario – imagine your pay increased 18% over the last 25 years while the money you have to shell out for survival has increased 150%. Ouch!
Dealing in commodities, where the market determines price, farmers are left at the mercy of others. The buyers don’t take into consideration what it takes to run a farm business. Buyers just know what they are willing to pay for the “fruits” of a farmer’s labor and investment.
In order for farmers to keep up with the rising cost of doing business, where they can control the price of their goods, they must turn their crop into a value added product. For example, the wine industry takes a commodity of grapes and turns it into the value added product of wine. A vegetable farmer opens a farm market and draws people into the establishment where they sell fruits and vegetables by the pound, pint, basket or bushel as well as pies, jams, preserves and other “value added products” made from those farm goods. As an example, current commodity prices for milk are $14.50 per 100 pounds. That same 100 lbs. turned into 10 lbs. of cheese can garner $10-$25 per pound.
This is where the education comes in. Think of it as a “no farm left behind” moment. Consumers need to understand the economics of farm production and then to support local agriculture by buying local whenever possible. For example, farm markets, which are becoming increasingly popular, can promote events and resell other products like local cheeses, specialty jams and jellies and baked goods. In recent years corn mazes have popped up all over New Jersey as an additional value added activity for the farm.
Throughout the year make an effort to support local agritourism businesses.
• Stop by your local winery.
• Bring your family out to many of the family owned farm businesses that give tours or offer pick-your-own.
• During the spring, summer and fall support your local farm market and buy Jersey Fresh when produce is in season. Check out the Jersey Fresh website at www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh for a list of farm markets, pick your own farms, and community farmers markets.
• Bookmark the Jersey Fresh page and visit it throughout the year as a reference for recipes, agritourism events, wineries and other New Jersey initiatives like Jersey Grown and Jersey Seafood.
• Look for Jersey Fresh signs at local supermarkets and restaurants and patronize those businesses.
• Visit a County Fair this year and learn about agriculture in New Jersey.
• Visit a local Christmas tree farm in the winter, instead of the local Walmart for a tree shipped from out of state or a fake tree made in China.
Helping to support these businesses helps your local communities as well as the entire state.
How does this help you?
First and foremost, preserving farms preserves our rural landscapes. Preserving farmers helps their businesses grow. When local farms do business beyond the commodities market, they often hire additional workers, who pay income taxes. The farm also pays sales tax to the state on their value added product, and in the case of wine and milk, additional taxes specific to their product that helps the state’s economy. Many farms that produce value added products, invite the public to learn how their products are made, taste them on location, etc. Tourists traveling to these agricultural attractions stop at other local businesses along the way from the convenience store/deli to the gas station to antique shops and others. This stimulus to local businesses grows the economy of the area so that it can better support services for its citizens. We can let the Garden State become a misnomer or we can protect it by protecting its farmers. It’s up to us.