ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Building on the success achieved last year when the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s State Agricultural Convention was held along with the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey’s convention and trade show, the two groups held their second annual joint event Feb. 5-7 here at the Trump Taj Mahal, drawing excellent attendance and enthusiastic crowds.
By the time the event ends, “about 1,500 people will have gone through the doors at some point,” Al Murray, the state’s assistant secretary of agriculture, told The Produce Newsmidway through the conventions. “The entire farming community of the state comes together. And this convention is their opportunity to have their voice heard on the important issues that affect this state.”
Joe Marino of Sun Valley Orchards and president of the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey also spoke highly of the event around the midway point. “I’m very pleased with the show overall,” he said. “Attendance is good. There are more vendors this year, and we’ve been hearing from others” who have indicated that they want to come next year.
“The educational sessions were well attended,” he added. “It’s been a good fit,” he said of the decision to hold the two events together. “I hope it continues.”
Every year since 1914, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which is governed by the State Board of Agriculture, has conducted a legally mandated annual convention of the state’s entire agricultural industry.
Founded in 1955, the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey disseminates knowledge of the growing and marketing of vegetables through cooperation with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension, the New Jersey and U.S. departments of agriculture, and other organizations and committees working for or interested in the vegetable industry in the Garden State.
Among the many activities at the Vegetable Growers Association’s convention was a live auction, held Tuesday evening. The auction raised $4,510 — twice as much as last year — for the Coach Wags Memorial Foundation, which helps children battling cancer.
Awards were also part of the association’s activities. Noble F. McNaughton, president of the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s board of trustees, presented two awards. Ron Fisher of Ron’s Gardens received the Tony Russo Farmers Marketing Award; and Beth Feehan, a volunteer who works to increase demand for locally grown produce, received the Phillip Alampi Industry Marketing Award.
Also at the luncheon, Jim Giamarese, a director of the New Jersey Horticultural Society, presented the society’s 2013 Outstanding Fruit Grower Award to Russell J. Marino Sr. of Sun Valley Orchards.
One of the highlights of the State Agricultural Convention was the State of the State of Agriculture address, presented Wednesday morning, Feb. 6, by New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher.
Despite some “rough moments” last year, including of course Hurricane Sandy, Secretary Fisher said that “2012 was, in many respects, a good year for New Jersey agriculture.”
Ackonowledging that “I’m far from the most tech-savvy person you will meet here this week,” Mr. Fisher noted that times are changing extremely fast and that those who work in agriculture must keep up. However, “trends develop quickly and can die at the same pace,” he said. “So it’s important to track trends to help you choose which ones are worth your time and which are mere nano-fads to be ignored.”
As he put it, “Devout foodies may be fickle and move from trend to trend, but the idea of foodies themselves is clearly here to stay.”
On the topic of locally grown, “For the past half-decade we’ve become comfortable in the popularity of the locavore movement,” he said. “But we should be prepared for so many out there looking to redefine their own version of ‘local.’ An increasingly globalized world will create local consumers who want exotic tastes but insist that the ingredients be grown in some form of ‘local.’“
The secretary also said that “global efficiency” and “consolidation” will continue to be “watchwords that define agriculture in a way we may not have dealt with in the past.”
Among the priorities at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Mr. Fisher listed adopting a new, updated Jersey Fresh marketing campaign attuned to today’s consumers; continuing to the lead the nation in developing more nutritious and appealing items for school menus; continuing to develop school gardens and farm-to-school relationships that connect children to agricultural life at a young age and encourage their patronage of local farms; and branching out into social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Finally, speaking directly to the farming aspect of agriculture, Mr. Fisher declared, “You have an asset that, unlike many other businesses, you can rapidly shift from one focus to another. You as farmers have highly adaptable assets in your land. In New Jersey, where no one crop dominates and some farms produce dozens of products, your biggest asset can be adapted in many ways to fit whatever opportunities you find. The world is what it is. But your earth can be whatever you dream for it.”