Hurricane Sandy Response – The Department has staffed the state’s Regional Operations and Intelligence Center since October 27, prior to Hurricane Sandy making landfall. The Department set up a web page on the NJDA website to give preparedness information to residents and farmers, also communicating updates to the page through Facebook. On the page, pet-friendly shelters and hotels were listed to assist evacuees, as well as information for farmers impacted by the storm. NJDA helped facilitate the establishment of a Pet Rescue Hotline, which has fielded more than 900 calls, resulting in the rescue of more than 450 animals. The Department activated the County Animal Response Teams to respond to the needs of the evacuees’ pets and continues to work to ensure the sheltering of these pets in proximity to their owners. The Division of Food and Nutrition worked with USDA to move 1,142 cases of food from the Port Newark warehouse to Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside for congregate feeding. In addition, seven truckloads of food from USDA will be used for home distribution packages through November 22. The Department responded to multiple calls for electricity and water for livestock farms that had lost power. NJDA is in the beginning stages of coordinating with USDA-FSA and NJ Voluntary Organizations Active in a Disaster (NJBVOAD) to have volunteers help farmers clear downed trees, repair farm buildings and otherwise clear debris from farms.
State Strategic Plan – A vote had been scheduled for November 13 to adopt the State Strategic Plan, but in light of Superstorm Sandy, the vote was postponed. Governor Christie said the administration needs to rethink the goals of the plan after the face of the state was changed significantly by the storm. No timetable was given as to when the plan might come up for a vote in the future.
Farmland Preservation Milestone -- New Jersey has reached a major farmland preservation milestone with the permanent protection of the 200,000th acre of farmland, which was announced on October 9 at Cassaday Farms in Upper Pittsgrove Township, Salem County. There are 2,135 farms preserved in New Jersey. A list of the 58 farms that were preserved this year under the State Farmland Preservation Program and helped carry New Jersey to the 200,000-acre threshold, can be found at www.nj.gov/agriculture/sadc/farmpreserve/progress/preserved/2012farmsto200,000acres.pdf. For a listing of all farms preserved since the inception of the program, visit www.nj.gov/agriculture/sadc/farmpreserve/progress/preserved/preservedfarmslist.pdf.
Specialty Crop Block Grants – Thirteen initiatives to benefit Garden State crops such as fruits, vegetables, as well as horticulture and nursery have received $816,127 in Specialty Crop Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of New Jersey agriculture falls into the specialty crop category. Specialty crops account for $882.4 million in sales annually in the Garden State. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will use a portion of the funding to support the popular Jersey Fresh and Jersey Grown programs. A majority of the projects support agricultural marketing and cooperative development.
Highway Agritourism Signage Program -- Secretary Fisher and Deputy Transportation Commissioner Joseph Mrozek on October 11visited Alstede Farms in Chester Township, one of 23 agritourism operations in the state benefitting from highway signs directing drivers to their locations. Working with the Department of Agriculture, the New Jersey Department of Transportation significantly revised its Tourist Oriented Destination Sign (TODS) program and tailored it to the needs of agritourism in an effort to help agricultural businesses build their base of regular customers and attract higher numbers of tourists. The new regulations allow agritourism businesses to place signs on state highways up to 10 miles from their location, and the operations can be several turns off of those roadways if there is a chain of signage leading to the facilities. The businesses must be open a minimum of six hours each day, five days a week during their growing or operating season. There is an annual fee of $400 for each sign. The rules take into account that agritourism is usually a seasonal business, exempting them from certain provisions. To learn more, visit www.newjerseytods.interstatelogos.com/state/home.aspx or call 888-655-6467 or 609-406-9525.
New Advertising Agency -- The Jersey Fresh advertising and promotional contract has been awarded to Princeton Partners of Princeton. An initial meeting was held to discuss how the contract will work, and to begin the planning process for the 2013 season.
Montclair School Lunch Taste Test – Division of Food and Nutrition Director Rose Tricario, along with a panel of second grade students, participated in a taste test of new school lunch menu items at Charles H. Bullock Elementary School in Montclair on October 16. The new menu items meet healthier federal guidelines enacted this school year. The group tasted vegetarian chili, garbanzo bean salad and fresh berries. The federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act school lunch regulations require more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk, fat-free flavored milk and strict limits on saturated fat and portion size.
USDA Deputy Secretary Visit -- USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited New Jersey on October 18, 2012. She stopped by Etsch Farms in Monroe Township to speak with local farmers. Secretary Fisher and local USDA officials attended.
National FFA Convention – More than 170 New Jersey representatives from 17 chapters and the State FFA Association attended the 85th National FFA Convention in Indianapolis October 24-27. Fifteen students received American Degrees and four adults – Middlesex County Vocational School-East Brunswick teacher Lisa Ann Moschera Chernigovets; Richard Belcher, NJDA; Erin Noble, NJDA; and Retired Union County Technical High School principal Patrick Mauro – were awarded Honorary Degrees. Biotechnology High School FFA members placed first in three of the 24 Agriscience Fair Categories. In addition, two Freehold FFA members advanced to the finals, which was a first for NJ FFA. New Jersey has 35 FFA chapters with 2,528 members this school year.
Plant Industry – Asian longhorned beetle -- NJDA and USDA staff surveyed more than 10,000 trees in the final survey confirmation cycle, which is expected to finish by the end of the year or early 2013. This is the last step toward declaring the beetle eradicated in the Middlesex/Union County Zone. Gypsy Moth – Egg mass surveys are almost complete with no spray blocks being identified as of yet. National Honey Bee Survey – New Jersey is one of 30 states participating in the 2012 USDA APHIS honey bee survey to determine the presence of various diseases and parasites throughout the nation’s honey been industry. Twenty out of 24 apiaries have been surveyed to date.
Healthier US School Challenge Award – Cape May City Elementary School was honored by NJDA and USDA on October 19 for attaining the Silver Level of the Healthier US School Challenge Award. The school is only one of five schools in the state to reach the silver level.
NJDA Staff Honored -- Bill Walker of the Division of Marketing and Development, and his wife, State Board of Agriculture Secretary Linda Walker, were honored at the Burlington County Board of Agriculture dinner meeting with a Distinguished Service Award for their commitment, dedication and devotion to farming.