The first class of farmers in the Rutgers Beginner Farmer Training Program (RU Ready to Farm), which was launched in 2021 with a USDA-NIFA grant, reached an exciting milestone this summer when participants began harvesting and distributing weekly consumer supported agriculture (CSA) farm shares to customers. CSA supports New Jersey farmers and provides customers with fresh, nutrient-rich and locally grown products.
The program’s mission is to grow and empower new farmers. Through lectures, farm tours and hands-on lessons in specific skills with a team of agricultural experts, RU Ready to Farm guides beginner farmers step-by-step through the stages of planning for and operating a successful farm.
In just one year, these beginner farmers have translated that education into the successful management of a communal plot of land for their CSA business. These first shares included garlic scapes, lettuce, arugula, scallions, turnips, kohlrabi, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, flowers and two different varieties of kale.
Breaking into the agriculture business can be daunting, but RU Ready to Farm provides beginner farmers with an extensive network of experts and successful farmers who can give both advice and assistance. After graduating from this program, the first class of beginner farmers will work with incoming cohorts.
“I am amazed by the energy and passion displayed by the two groups of over 80 beginner farmer students in the past two years,” said Bill Hlubik, county agent and county extension department head, RCE of Middlesex County, who directs the program. “There is a bonding and sense of community evolving within our groups that provides the core energy to drive program success. It is truly an uplifting experience to see students transform their classroom and farm visit knowledge into their first successful CSA.”
“We are very fortunate to have an excellent program coordinator, Brendon Pearsall, and two outstanding recent Rutgers graduates Kaitlin Quinn and Trevor Styles assisting with the program,” added Hlubik. “We also have an outstanding videographer and photographer, Linnea Eberly, who has been documenting the progress of the program and producing outstanding video training modules.”
Feedback from this inaugural cohort of the RU Ready to Farm program has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve learned more with this hands-on experience and this environment than I did working on the farms that I was working on. It’s been an incredible experience so far.” ~Alex, RU Ready to Farm participant.
“The feedback was great. Everyone had nice feedback. It’s just nice to be able to send something out to people knowing that you picked that, you put your time and effort into it, and it shows.” ~Dan, RU Ready to Farm participant
“We researched [the program] and it checked every box that we were looking for. To learn how to run a business, how to write a business plan, and where to get started. We don’t have any farmers in our family, it’s just something we wanted to get into but didn’t really know how, and this was a great entry place.” ~Lisa, RU Ready to Farm participant.
“Out of everything we’ve done on the farm, harvesting has been the most fun, and delivering it to our customers has been rewarding. Getting to actually see the fruits of your labor, literally, and sharing that with people who invested in us, who had faith in us to produce something, and to pull through and be able to provide that to them was really rewarding.” ~Lisa, RU Ready to Farm participant.
For those interested in agriculture and looking to dive into their next career, visit the Beginner Farmer Training Program website for more information.