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Archive for March, 2011

Community supported agriculture pays delicious dividends

Monday, March 28th, 2011

RELEASE: March 25, 2011 – Volume XLIV, No. 12

 

For many of us, springtime means starting seeds and preparing to plant. But if you don’t have the space, time or knowledge for farming and gardening, check out community supported agriculture (CSA). CSA farms allow non-gardeners to enjoy bountiful fresh vegetables – and support farming in this state we’re in.

A typical CSA farm offers a limited number of “shares” to the public, based on the farm’s capacity and business plan. You can buy a share before the growing season and receive your dividends as a box of seasonal produce every week from late spring through fall.

CSA members get the freshest possible produce, with all the flavor and nutrition intact.  An added benefit for CSA members is knowledge about how the produce is grown – whether fertilizers or pesticides are used and, if so, what kind.  Many CSA farms offer organic fruits and vegetables.  Adventurous chefs will enjoy the spontaneity that comes from not knowing exactly what produce will arrive at their door in a given week, and the opportunity to test recipes for new veggies.

Farmers can do well with the economics of CSAs.  Cash flow is guaranteed by having members buy CSA shares in advance of the growing season.  Rather than laying out cash for seed, equipment and other supplies months before realizing any income, farmers have cash right up front.

With such obvious benefits, CSAs have grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years.  In a recent Inside Jersey article, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ) estimated that 1,500 acres on 35 Garden State farms are now committed to CSAs.  Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Lawrence Township, Mercer County, had 17 CSA members in 2001; today it has 300.  Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington and Chesterfield is New Jersey’s largest CSA farm, with 4,500 members.

CSAs can be creative and flexible, with many variations on how produce is distributed to members.  Some allow mixing and matching your produce, so you don’t get a bushel of Brussels sprouts if there’s nobody at home to eat them.  Some may include eggs, cheese, fruit, flowers and baked goods.  Others may sell shares just for specific crops.

As with any “investment,” there’s risk. You are, after all, buying future produce before it’s grown. Droughts, floods or other problems could wipe out or lower crop yield.  But at worst, you will have helped a local farmer stay in business in the nation’s most densely populated state!

If the freshest of the fresh and tasty vegetables sounds good to you, check out the “Find a Farm” link at the NOFA-NJ website (www.nofanj.org) and become a farm shareholder.  Farmers interested in setting up CSA on their farm can also find how-to information there.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org .

Defend New Jersey from alien invaders!

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

RELEASE: March 18, 2011 – Volume XLIV, No. 11

 

Star Trek fans will recall that Starfleet’s Prime Directive when encountering an alien civilization was non-interference.  But for alien species invading this state we’re in, the opposite is true.

Nearly one-third of New Jersey’s 3,000-plus native plant species are now considered rare.  We are losing our native wildlife to invasive flora and fauna of every form from the Old World.  On the heels of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, it’s clear that we need to take action before it’s too late.

Here’s why:

FungusWhite-nose fungus wiped out wintering bat populations in New York State caves, and is spreading through New England and along the Appalachians. Northern New Jersey’s common bats are virtually gone. 

Viral/bacterial - Sudden Oak Death pathogen kills trees and threatens ecosystems like the California Redwood forest.  Infected rhododendrons from the Pacific Coast recently arrived in southern New Jersey nurseries, but were detected by keen agricultural inspectors and destroyed before they could infect our native flora.

Insect – New Jersey’s Agriculture and Environmental Protection agencies have long been combating the Asian Long-horned Beetle, which arrived in our ports stowed away in wooden shipping pallets.  The insects began killing street trees in the Linden/Carteret area.  To halt the spread of these lumbering beetles, trees in entire neighborhoods were destroyed. But the prospect of their return is very real; and if they enter a heavily-forested area, they could tunnel into and kill nearly every tree in the forest.

Mammal - After being introduced for sport by a few ill-advised hunters, Wild hogs now roam the woods of the Delaware Bayshore, disturbing and destroying habitats for native plants and animals,.

Fish - Highly aggressive Bighead carp have ruined Upper Mississippi River fish habitats and cost millions. New Jersey Conservation Foundation had its own run-in with this alien fish after preserving land in Hunterdon County that included former commercial fish ponds.  The ponds were not inhabited with the long-established Asian common carp that we expected; rather, there were bighead carp.   In the process of eradicating the carp, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife discovered the New World’s first population of Chinese Pond mussel – a species currently wreaking havoc in Europe.  Now this mussel must be eliminated before it makes its way into the Delaware River watershed.

Tragically, in the face of so many threats by aggressive invaders, New Jersey has adopted what amounts to its own “non-interference prime directive.”  For example:

  • Sixty percent of the 40 most-damaging alien invasive plant species have been introduced by the nursery/horticulture industry, yet our state has few restrictions on the sale of known or potentially invasive species.
  • New Jersey published an invasive species control plan in 2009, but Governor Christie eliminated the state’s Invasive Species Council in 2010.
  • Those on the front lines of identifying, controlling and destroying invasive populations –the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Philip Alampi Insect Research Lab, or the Central Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team, for example – find themselves like the crew of the Enterprise:  virtually on their own, without the resources to fulfill their mission.

But this isn’t TV drama.  No cavalry will save the day when things look bleakest.  The message of National Invasive Species Awareness Week is clear:  unless we make restoring native ecosystems a paramount concern, we will lose them.

To find out more about invasive species and what can be done, visit the Central Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team website at www.urwa.org/stewardship/cjisst.html  or the National Invasive Species Awareness Week website at www.nisaw.org.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJCF) website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org .

Support New Jersey farms; have a glass of wine!

Monday, March 14th, 2011

RELEASE: March 11, 2011 – Volume XLIV, No. 10

 

When people think of farmland, large swaths of corn or grain likely come to mind.  But in the Garden State, farmland means everything from apples to zinnias – and a diverse array of agricultural products that includes delicious cheeses and wines.

If you haven’t been paying attention to New Jersey wines, it may surprise you to know that this state we’re in ranks fifth in the nation for wine production.  Our state’s nearly 40 wineries produce about a million gallons of wine per year. 

The New Jersey Wine Growers Association estimates that more than 40 grape varieties are grown here, producing everything from Riesling and Chardonnay to ports and fruit wines made with cranberries and blueberries.

You may think the idea of fine wines from New Jersey would prompt snickering from the Napa Valley, but don’t be fooled.  New Jersey’s wineries produce award-winning wines – and pump millions of dollars into the state economy through sales tax and a growing agri-tourism business that includes winery tours and tastings.

New Jersey supports a healthy and affluent customer base for wines. More wine priced at $24.99 and higher is sold here than anywhere in the nation.  To compete, the Garden State’s small wineries tap the market by bypassing wholesalers and selling directly to New Jersey restaurants and retailers. 

But out-of-state wineries, which are required to sell through licensed wholesalers, recently won a federal court case charging that New Jersey’s laws are unfair.

If New Jersey’s wineries are no longer able to sell directly to retailers, they will be forced to compete with much larger vineyards.  The resulting business environment may be untenable – like a corner five & dime store trying to sell to the same customers as Wal-Mart.

Should the worst happen and New Jersey wineries start shutting down, it would be a severe blow to an up-and-coming segment of our agricultural economy.

Unfortunately, the issue may ultimately be decided in the courts.  But you can make a difference by having a glass of New Jersey native wine… how’s that for grassroots citizen activism?  Ask for domestic New Jersey wines at your favorite wine retailer or restaurant, and get to know the fruit of the grape from the Garden State!

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJCF) website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

It’s all yours: 50 years of Green Acres open space

Monday, March 7th, 2011

RELEASE: March 4, 2011 – Volume XLIV, No. 9

 

New Jersey’s Green Acres Program celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year.  This highly successful program is the longest continuously-running, state-supported open space program in the nation – a testament to the foresight of those who established it and to countless New Jersey voters who voted yes for open space preservation in the face of aggressive development, rising property taxes and a rollercoaster economy.

In the 1950s, this state we’re in was a vastly different place.  Land and parks seemed plentiful.  But then-Governor Robert B. Meyner grew concerned about the pace of development in the Garden State.  His administration drafted legislation authorizing the sale of $60 million in bonds to fund open space preservation. In the November 1960 election – at the same time John F. Kennedy became president – nearly 60 percent of voters said yes.

Governor Meyner signed the first Green Acres bond act on June 3, 1961.  Almost 97,000 acres of land were protected with that first bond measure, including 10,000 acres for Wawayanda State Park in Sussex County, nearly 5,000 acres for the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area in Monmouth and Mercer counties, and 3,000 acres of cranberry and blueberry fields in the Pine Barrens of Burlington and Ocean counties, now part of Brendan Byrne State Forest.

But the future of the new program was not certain.  There were few environmental programs; even the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (which now administers Green Acres) wouldn’t be created for another nine years.

But, again and again over the years, New Jersey voters supported Green Acres.  In the last 50 years, approximately 650,000 acres of open space have been directly protected by Green Acres, and hundreds of outdoor recreational facilities have been built or improved in every New Jersey county and most municipalities. 

Green Acres has inspired other states, counties and towns.  Today it’s common for states to have a conservation fund of some type. 

The proliferation of open space funds reflects, in part, the impact that popular and successful programs like Green Acres have had on our thinking.  What was novel in the 1960s – that the state should purchase open space, farmland, natural areas and historic sites on behalf of the public and hold them in public trust for future generations – is now fundamental in today’s Garden State, where sprawl development has stretched natural resources to the breaking point. 

And, as our understanding of the link between open space, healthy living, lower healthcare costs and the value of natural services (like flood control, water- and air-filtration) continues to grow, the wisdom of those who first framed and voted for Green Acres becomes more and more profound.  Where would the Garden State be if we were celebrating Green Acres’ 10th anniversary, rather than its 50th?

Find out more about Green Acres at its anniversary website, www.nj.gov/dep/ga50 . The anniversary slogan is “It’s All Yours.” And it really is – voters have authorized over $3 billion in 13 Green Acres bond measures over the years!

Check out your land for yourself at dozens of events planned throughout the year at Green Acres funded properties.  Or, download a beautiful new map of New Jersey’s open space from the website.  If you like taking photos, enter the photo contest by submitting your pictures of Green Acres parks, forests and preserves.

Don’t forget, though, that New Jersey still has two million acres of natural lands, farms, meadows, forests and wetlands that remain unprotected. There’s still much work ahead for Green Acres, and we still need a stable source of funding to keep up the great work started by Green Acres 50 years ago.

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJCF) website at www.njconservation.org  or contact me at info@njconservation.org .

 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225           info@njconservation.org

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