Some came to learn about irrigation systems and Earth-friendly fertilizers. Others wanted to hear about American artisan cheeses or the benefits of organic beekeeping.
Whatever the reason, several hundred farmers, scientists, environmentalists and vendors gathered at Rutgers University yesterday for the 18th annual conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey
New Jersey has long prided itself on being a farming state, though it has seen the amount of acres used for crops like tomatoes and blueberries shrink over the decades along with general farmland. Meanwhile, NOFA says organic farming is slowly catching on.
Of the roughly 9,800 farms last recorded by the state Department of Agriculture, NOFA says about 50 are certified organic farms.
The typical organic farmer uses cultural, mechanical and biological methods to promote healthy soil, suppress disease and manage weeds and insects without using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Crop rotation is often implemented, and animals used for meat or food production are fed a specific diet.
Richard Tregidgo of Fertrell Farms in Bainbridge, Pa., which sells organic feed and fertilizers, said: “It’s a tougher row to hoe in the sense that it’s tough to get attention. But the benefits are good.”
In New Jersey, there has been a growing concern among career farmers that the younger generations are breaking tradition and leaving the agriculture trade for a variety of reasons, including high property taxes, attractive offers from developers or just a general frustration with the shrinking market.
However, officials with NOFA said the idea of organic farming is becoming attractive to younger people, even those without a family farming history.
“It allows them to really connect with people to grow both food and a sense of community,” said Mikey Azzara, NOFA’s outreach director, himself the son of an insurance agent and a nurse.
Yesterday’s daylong conference was the chance for some to promote their causes. Matt Pearson of Howling Wolf Farm in Hope, Warren County, discussed the benefits of raw milk, which is available for purchase in other states, but not New Jersey.