In 2008, passage of the federal Farm Bill, on which New Jersey agricultural interests had significant influence, created opportunities for the produce industry through increased Specialty Crop research and marketing funds, expansion of the School Snack program in which schools are to offer a fresh fruit or vegetable each day as a snack, and the inclusion of fruits and vegetables as eligible purchases by recipients of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The WIC funding alone is estimated to enable $500 million worth of fresh fruit and vegetable purchases nationwide this year.
These linkages to school and community nutrition programs, along with state-level provisions directing that food purchases be made from local sources to the greatest extent practicable, will strengthen the efforts of the Department of Agriculture to promote the freshness of New Jersey’s locally grown produce through the Jerssy Fresh campaign. The campaign’s message, “Jersey Fresh, as Fresh as Fresh Gets” was advertised in print and through radio advertisements in 2008, as budget reductions precluded the use of television. To reinforce the media buys over 2,500 retail supermarkets, community and farmer’s markets received Jersey Fresh advertising materials to brand New Jersey produce at the point of sale. Through industry visits and involvement with the Eastern Produce Council, the Department continues to closely coordinate advertising with our region’s major buyers and retailers.
In partnership with the New Jersey Restaurant Association, approximately 350 restaurants participated in the “Proud to Offer Jersey Fresh” signage program. Working closely with the Produce News, Produce Business and the Packer national industry publications, the Department continues to keep the Jersey Fresh program in the national spotlight Through active membership and participation in the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association trade shows, the Jersey Fresh program’s high profile is supported and maintained at the national level.
To ensure the integrity of the Jersey Fresh promotion, the Department also spurred efforts to propose legislation that would provide a more direct ability to counteract those who would sell non-New Jersey items as Jersey Fresh. The “mislabeling and misbranding bill” would give Department inspectors the ability to immediately cite such violations instead of referring them to the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety.
Quality assurance is an important component of the Jersey Fresh brand. Each year hundreds of New Jersey growers of fresh fruits and vegetables voluntarily register for quality and grade inspections under the Department’s Jersey Fresh Quality Grading Program. To ensure retailers of good farm management practices, and product traceability, the Department will continue providing grower accreditation for third party food safety certification. In 2008, with funding from the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program, mock third party food safety audits continued to be available to provide grower training prior to initiating their third-party farm certifications. As food safety increases in importance, and consolidation continues in the retail produce industry, the benefits of the department’s affordable third-party farm certifications will continue to grow, as retailers require the improved trace-back ability third-party certifications offer.
Efforts to improve food safety also were behind the Department’s work in 2008 with the Department of Health and Senior Services to publish “Chapter 24 and You: A Practical Guide to Selling Safely at Farmers Markets.” Spurred by local health officials’ concerns about homemade prepared foods being offered for sale, the guide explains to those pursuing value-added items how to prepare, store and market them in accordance with Chapter 24 of the state Health Code. Related to that effort, the Department has worked to identify and develop community kitchens where entrepreneurs can prepare value-added items. In addition, the Rutgers Food Innovation Center was opened in Bridgeton, where food products can be safely developed and agricultural or food-related businesses can be incubated.
In 2008, state food purchasing programs received $3 million to support locally grown, nutrient dense foods consistent with good dietary guidelines. The Department will also continue to manage the Emergency Food Assistance Program that distributes over 10 million pounds of USDA commodities to 660 food pantries, soup kitchens and other feeding operations. As a cornerstone to quality assurance, the Department will continue to provide affordable third-party farm certifications. Working in conjunction with Rutgers University extension agents, the Department has trained nearly 1,000 farmers in the basics of food safety and in the requirements of third-party audits.
Work will continue to open new community farmers markets, providing growers greater direct access to consumers. Currently, there are 111 community farmers markets throughout the state, many in urban areas where the populations are underserved by supermarkets. The Department also will continue to integrate WIC, Senior Farmers Market coupons and food stamps into the purchasing options at farmers markets. This will be facilitated where possible by incorporation of Wireless Electronic Benefit Transfer technology.
1.1 Produce Safety Task Force
1) STRATEGY – The produce safety taskforce will continue to guide the Department’s efforts assisting New Jersey’s fruit and vegetable growers to offer the highest quality locally grown products while adapting their operations to new food-safety standards. As food safety increases in importance, and consolidation continues in the retail produce industry, the importance of the Department’s affordable third-party farm certifications will continue to grow, as retailers require the improved trace-back ability third-party certifications offer. The Department will work to;
- Influence the regulatory process to ensure that it is relevant to small, medium and large scale producers.
- Ensure that all types of agriculture including traditional in ground, above ground and tree fruit growers are considered in the development and implementation of food safety standards and regulations.
- Following up on efforts funded by the USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program continue to work with Rutgers to train growers in food safety practices in preparation for third party food safety audits.
- Use the Jersey Fresh brand to promote the food safety of New Jersey agricultural products to supermarket chains and all other retailers.
1.2 Jersey Fresh Hospitality Industry Program
2) STRATEGY – Continue to develop and strengthen the Jersey Fresh and Jersey Seafood Hospitality Industry Program by bolstering many elements of the marketing of those products to the hotel, restaurant and the institutional food service industries. The program will;
- Continue to involve members of the NJ Restaurant Association, Slow Food of Central NJ, South Jersey Hot Chefs and local chapters of the Professional Chef’s Association.
- Continue to promote participating restaurants to the public via the internet and other means, including the NJDA website.
- Continue to provide supplier directories and point of sale advertising to the industry.
- Promote Jersey Fresh produce and menu themes to restaurants and culinary contests such as the “Farm to Fork Week” and the “Jersey Seafood Challenge.”
1.3 Increase Produce Branding
3) STRATEGY – Through a Specialty Crop Block Grant, work to improve and strengthen the point of purchase labeling of individual produce items, continue to distribute Jersey Fresh advertising materials to growers, marketing cooperatives and retailers to expand the branding of Jersey Fresh on packaging and at the point of sale; continue to support efforts in the Legislature to enable the Department to directly enforce mislabeling and misbranding violations.
1.4 Promote Vertical Integration
4) STRATEGY - Encourage industry attendance at national produce industry trade shows, continue to work with representatives of nationally marketed produce brands and seek new methods to better integrate New Jersey’s produce industry into the year-round supply model.
5) STRATEGY - Promote improved communication within industry members and greater coordination between the East Coast growing regions. Work with other state departments of agriculture to develop improved networking opportunities between East Coast growers and marketing cooperatives.
1.5 Continue to Seek New Markets
6) STRATEGY – Work to explore and develop opportunities that facilitate state purchases of New Jersey farm products.
1. Review and examine purchasing opportunities at the Department of Corrections.
2. Continue to promote produce purchasing for school breakfast and lunch programs.
3. Strengthen the State’s emergency feeding programs.
7) STRATEGY - Continue supporting fresh exports of New Jersey agricultural products to the New England states and Canada. Through industry visits and participation in such shows as the New England Produce Council and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association trade shows, keep key industry contacts current on New Jersey agriculture and the latest promotions of the Jersey Fresh brand.
1.6 Strengthen Existing and Seek New Community Markets
8) STRATEGY – Work to communicate the best practices and the costs and benefits of direct marketing to growers. Maintain a current list of existing and new community farm markets that seek increased farmer participation.
9) STRATEGY - Promote the existence of community farmers markets to the public. Maintain an interactive directory of community farmers markets on the Department’s website and continue to offer community farmers market lists for publication in local papers. Distribute community farmers’ market lists to agencies responsible for distributing Farmers Market Nutrition coupons to seniors and participants in the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) nutritional program. Promote the use of wireless electronic bank transfers technology and expand the availability of seafood products at community farmers markets.
1.7 Expand Jersey Fresh Program
10) STRATEGY – Continue to strengthen the appeal of the Jersey Fresh brand and communicate the benefits of our state’s produce food safety program to supermarket chains and all other retailers. Discourage the use of the “Locally Grown” product claim and increase the use of the Jersey Fresh brand name.
11) STRATEGY – Through the use of Specialty Crop Block Grant funds, seek to expand the budget for the Jersey Fresh matching-funds grant program and continue to award grants to applicants with the best past performance and greatest potential industry impact.
12) STRATEGY – Continue to broaden the Jersey Fresh promotional program to be more inclusive of all New Jersey produced fruits and vegetables, especially herbs, hydroponics and greenhouse produced fruits and vegetables and ethnic produce items, and seek to update Jersey Fresh Quality Grading standards to include non-traditional produce items if necessary.
13) STRATEGY – Develop and adopt standards for the use of “Made with Jersey Fresh” labeling utilized on appropriate processed foods.
1.8 Improve Retailer and Processor Coordination
14) STRATEGY – Continue weekly dialogue, including weekly updates, involving Department representatives, growers, producers, wholesalers and retailers of New Jersey agricultural products. Conduct farmer and buyer meetings to bring retailers, processors and growers together.
15) STRATEGY - Improve coordination and communication with the USDA Market News that collects information on the current supply, demand and prices on fruits, vegetables, ornamental and specialty crops.