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Secretary's Report to the State Board of Agriculture
October 22, 2008Hunger – With food banks around the state reporting that there has been a 30-percent increase in the number of people seeking assistance this year and a decrease of as much as 20 percent in donations, Governor Corzine announced on October 16 that he is allocating up to an additional $3 million to the State Food Purchase Program to buy healthy food for those in need. The previous week, Governor Corzine, Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez and Secretary Kuperus visited CUMAC, a food pantry in Paterson that closed for a day because it ran out of food. The Governor announced the early distribution of nearly $1 million to New Jersey's six emergency food distribution operations to ease the reported shortages. The funding is part of the Governor's Hunger Initiative and was originally scheduled for distribution later this month. He also ordered an increase in the level of funding to help in the crisis. The originally scheduled amount for the second quarter of the fiscal year was $770,000, compared to the $987,500 announced by the Governor.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program – Students in 33 schools in 17 counties in New Jersey this school year are sampling fresh fruits and vegetables – some they might not have ever eaten before -- under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program, which made its debut in 25 of the schools last month and 8 schools this month. To see the program in action, Secretary Kuperus, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, Congressman Bill Pascrell and Barbara Martin, Section Chief for Schools, Summer, and Nutrition Education in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, on October 15 visited William B. Cruise Memorial School #11 in Passaic, where students in first through fifth grade were treated to Jersey Fresh Macintosh apples. The federal Farm Bill, which became law in June of 2008, expanded the fruit and vegetable program to all 50 states. The program was initiated as a pilot in 2002 in four states and one Indian Tribal Organization. Legislation in 2004 made the program permanent. USDA allocated a total of $1,100,044 to New Jersey for the program, whose goal is to expose children to new, healthier foods and increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, ultimately leading to lifelong dietary habits.
School Breakfast – The Department has launched a new website www.njdafoodforthought.com promoting the School Breakfast program in an effort to encourage more participation in the program.
DEP Commissioner Farm Tour -- Secretary Kuperus, members of the State Board of Agriculture, NRCS staff and representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection, including Commissioner Lisa Jackson met September 29 at two farms in Hunterdon County to discuss water supply/water usage concerns and differences between farm conservation planning and DEP regulations. The group toured three locations to view installed water quality practices and the regulatory hurdles that accompanied each site. It was established that points of contact for both agencies be identified with a goal of creating opportunities for uniform interpretation of regulations and a streamlined process for exemption determinations and/or permit approvals.
Farmland Assessment Study Released -- The Food Policy Institute, Rutgers University released the report Evaluating Changes in the Eligibility Provisions for Farmland Assessment in New Jersey commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The report is available on the Department’s website www.nj.gov/agriculture under “Publications” then “For Farmers”.
Alternative Energy Property Tax Exemption – On Wednesday, October 1, Governor Corzine signed legislation that restores a property-tax exemption to alternative energy systems. The Department had worked for the past several years to urge the Legislature to restore the exemption, which had expired in 1987, after hearing complaints from farmers who had installed solar-energy systems as a way to cut their energy costs, only to have local tax assessors significantly increase their property taxes because they counted such systems as “improvements to real property.” Passage of the legislation had been urged in each of the past three “Renewable Energy” resolutions at the State Agricultural Convention. With the signing of the legislation, tax assessors no longer will be able to use installation of alternative energy systems as a reason to increase property taxes.
Plastic Pesticide Container Collection Program -- The 2008 pesticide container collection program will wrap up in mid-November with the final collections taking place in Cumberland County. Participation at the three collection sites has tripled over that of 2007 participation levels and the volume collected has more than doubled. The Department is looking to add additional collection sites for 2009. For more information on the Department’s agricultural recycling program, visit www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/md/prog/recycling.html.
Sire Stakes Appointments – Governor Corzine has reappointed David Meirs of Cinnaminson, Anthony Perretti of Cream Ridge, Thomas D’Altrui of Hillsborough and Catherine Stearns Medich of Lawrenceville to the New Jersey Sire Stakes Board of Trustees.
Food Innovation Center Opening – Secretary Kuperus joined local, state and federal officials in marking the opening of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center’s new 23,000-square-foot business incubator and food processing facility in Bridgeton on Friday, October 17. The new facility will help make it possible for more farmers and food entrepreneurs to develop products that they otherwise might not have the resources to pursue. Already, even before this facility was completed, FIC has helped in the development of peach cider from Circle M Farms, tomato paste from Violet Packing, and gelato and sorbet from Blackwell’s Organic, to name just a few. The facility, Secretary Kuperus said, is critical to helping farmers add value to their agricultural products, enabling them to retain ownership further into the market chain and thus enhancing farm viability.
Grower Forum: State Purchases of New Jersey Produce -- An information session is scheduled on Wednesday, November 12 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Cumberland County Extension Office, Route 634 between Rosenhayn and Carmel for growers interested in learning about New Jersey's produce purchasing methods, including how to sell over-produced and under-valued product directly to the State. All food crop commodities are eligible for purchasing through this system and growers only need to register once. At this working session, the registration and purchasing process will be explained and application packets will be distributed. Representatives of the Department of Corrections purchasing unit, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and growers will be presenting information. For more information, call Logan Brown at 609-292-8856.
Jersey Fresh Exhibit – The New Jersey Museum of Agriculture will unveil a special exhibit on Friday, October 24 celebrating 25 years of the Jersey Fresh branding program. The exhibit takes a look back at the evolution of the highly successful program that has publicized New Jersey farmers’ fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products over the last quarter century. Visitors can view old television commercials, print ads, photos of promotions and how the logo has changed over the years. For more information, visit the museum’s website at www.agriculturemuseum.org.