April 4, 2022

At a meeting in early March, NOFA NJ Board President, Mike Rassweiler, asks me “What is the first thing on your mind when you wake up?” My immediate answer: “I’m afraid it looks like I’m not doing anything!” Naturally, answer 1B is funding and where to find it, as our programs rely on the generous support of our community and on onerously-won grant funding, but I’ll peel that potato some other time…

To remedy my concerns, I’ve decided to begin a Monthly Report from the NOFA NJ Executive Director, born out of this conversation with Mike. My hope is for this regular update to provide some insight into the important work NOFA NJ is doing behind the scenes and to share my experiences in this role. You’ll be able to find the Report on our website’s News section and a link to it in the first Weekly Email of each month.

So, what kept NOFA NJ busy in March?

Programming & Education

Thankfully, March had 31 days, affording enough time to plan, prepare and execute a handful of events:

NOFA NJ’s 2022 JourneyPerson Candidates joined a handful of our staff, board members, and farmer mentors for an evening of introductions, conversation, and good food. While we’re in the process of finalizing the details and aren’t quite ready to announce our JP participants, know that this year’s JourneyPersons are full of inspiration, fun stories, and will all serve to strengthen NJ’s farming community and food system. Read more about the program here and be sure to stay tuned for regular updates.

NOFA NJ’s annual Bulk Order arrived from Vermont Compost, and the pickup weekend proved to be a great opporutnity to meet and reconnect with some of the farmers and growers in our community. Helping load and unload pallets is great too. Much thanks to our Board President, Mike, for the use of NorthSlope Farm (and his tractor!). The weekend following pickups, Mike and I hit the road to deliver compost to those who didn’t have a truck, bringing NOFA NJ to Oldwick, Hamilton, Flemington, and Mays Landing, NJ. There is still compost available for purchase (click here for more info).

-The March Specialty Mushroom Workshop was a hit! Hosted by our NOFA NJ staff Fun-Guy/Mycelium Man Tony Kennette, the event sold out so quickly it has us thinking we might offer another later in the year… Thank you Tony and Andrea of Martenette Farms and all attendees for a great workshop.

NOFA NJ and Sourland Conservancy hosted a 10-Year Anniversary virtual film screening of Jared Flesher’s Sourlands, a fantastic documentary film focused on the hard work and challenges of protecting the Sourlands, farming in the Sourlands, and striving to conserve our natural resoures. This film and the folks within it are incredibly inspiring. We invited the filmmaker and film subjects to return for a Q&A after the screening, and that recording can be found here on NOFA NJ’s YouTube Channel, along with lots of other great content.

-The March Monthly Organic Open House was chock-full of good information, thanks to an incredible presentation from Dave Kimmell and Cindry Roberts of the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC). If you are a landowner or a farmer, you need to know about the various ways SADC can help you achieve your goals and all the other work they do throughout the state to protect farmland and promote conservation. Learn more about NOFA NJ’s Monthly Organic Open Houses here and view the recorded presentation from SADC here 

NOFA NJ’s Annual Meeting was held on March 15 to update our membership and communtiy on the goings-on within the organization. We discussed the past year of work, our current standing, and what we’re looking forward to in 2022 and beyond. As we stated during the meeting, NOFA NJ has been incredibly lucky to have had two recent Executive Directors who have helped grow the organization and organic farming in NJ. Adrian Hyde and Nagisa Manabe, we thank you again for your hard work and continuing efforts to promote OG farming and sustainability in NJ. 

Policy & Advocacy

January, February and March have been incredibly active on the Policy & Advocacy front. Led by NOFA NJ Board Member and Policy Committee Chair, Cali Alexander, we have been hard at work, ensuring the interests of organic and regenerative farmers are represented at the local, state and national levels.

-NOFA NJ & NJDA: Prompted by the NJDA’s January letter to NJ Organic farmers, we quickly responded to assist farmers in finding new certifiers and in soliciting feedback to provide for the NJDA’s transition to education, marketing and development. Seeing this as an opportunity to re-establish a relationship with NJDA and the State Board of Agriculture, NOFA NJ attended the March SBA meeting in Trenton and has been engaged in dialogue with NJDA regarding their plans to support organic farmers in NJ. Read NOFA NJ’s press release and other letters to NJDA here

This event has highlighted an urgent need within our community: organic farmer representation at County and State Board of Ag meetings, as well as representation within other ag entities that aren’t traditionally engaged with organic farmers (think, NJ Farm Bureau Membership, 4H, etc..). Now more than ever, we need to do a better job of integrating ourselves with the greater farming communtiy and being present at meetings and other improtant public events. If you are interested in participating in the NOFA NJ Policy Committee, or if you think you’d like to serve as an organic representative at your County’s Board of Ag meeting, please email nofainfo@nofanj.org

Many thanks are due to Hanna Conner and Sherry Dudas, along with our partners at New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Foodshed Alliance, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, NJ Food Democracy Collaborative, and the Watershed Institute, as well as many others who have helped inform and guide NOFA NJ’s actions to support farmers on a policy level. 

-Farm Bill Organizing: With the 2023 Farm Bill approaching, NOFA NJ staff and board has been actively engaged in listening sessions, farm bill priorities meetings, and other collaborative functions working to summarize and share input on this important piece of legislation. For more information on the Farm Bill, see NSAC’s primer here

-NOFA Interstate Council: Annually, the 7 NOFA Chapters and the Interstate Council hold a retreat to collect and organize policy priorities to guide the work of the IC for the year ahead. NOFA NJ participated by sending two Board members and the ED to engage with fellow NOFA staffers and IC coordinators. Each year, our network and our collective impact has grown stronger as we work to strengthen organic farming in the Northeast.

Outreach

At the top of my list (but at the bottom of this one) is Outreach: NOFA NJ needs to have a presence throughout the entire garden state. The first (and, for the most part, easiest) way to do so is through our website, which boasts tremendous resources for beginning and seasoned farmers, gardeners, and landowners. Our NEWS page has recently been updated, along with various other updates throughout the site. Coming soon, updates to our farm guide and the introduction of a technical support request form will help bring NOFA NJ resources and outreach to the community in a much more efficient manner.

As much as possible, we’re working to introduce NOFA NJ into new spaces as well as making time to visit our community and support their work. Among many other connections, this month brought us to connect with:

-South Jersey Trip: A compost delivery and a trip to visit family took me to my hometown of Egg Harbor Townhsip in Atlantic County. There, I met with representatives from the Rutgers Master Gardener Program in Mays Landing and visited CROPS at their beautiful Pleasantville Community Garden site (and checked out their awesome rainwater collection and purification system).  

From there, I headed down familiar paths to an unfamiliar operation, Enlightened Farm. A program within The Hansen Foundation, Enlightened Farm is a multi-faceted operation working to help individuals in the community heal, offering therapeutic services, recovery programs and employment training programs. In connecting their community to regenerative farming and holistic wellness, EF is furthering support for organic food systems in NJ and providing valuable services to the community.

A visit to Reed’s Organic Farm made my jaw drop, as there is so much awesome work being done through their non-profit, A Meaningful Purpose. Next up: another trip to Reed’s in April, a compost delivery to Hammonton and a visit to Walking Bird Farm in Egg Harbor City.

-Community Gardens at St. Michaels Preserve: A wonderful group of locals are working hard to grow food and community and are supporting local hunger relief efforts as a result. NOFA NJ hopes to support the gardens with bed preparation and ongoing volunteer efforts. Learn more here

-Meetings: Over the past month, we’ve connected with various organizations, too many to count! The goal of a food-secure, fair, sustainable local food system can only be achieve through partnerships and collaboration with others in the community. We’ve begun to develop or further our relationships with NAFSNFoodshed AllianceNorth Jersey RCD, Kids In Business, SADC, National Children’s Center for Rural Agricultural Health and Safety, Jersey Friendly Yards, among many other awesome individuals and organizations. Please keep NOFA NJ informed of any individuals or organizations that should be on our radar – we’d love to connect!

Here’s to another great month of organic farming and food systems work!

With gratitude,

Devin Cornia

NOFA NJ Executive Director

Devin
Author: Devin