(TRENTON) – Joe Marino realizes it’s a special honor to be named New Jersey’s “Outstanding Young Farmer.”
Being given that honor at the same time that his father is receiving a Distinguished Service to New Jersey Agriculture award, and just months after his mother, Judi, was honored by the Gloucester County Board of Agriculture for her contributions to the industry, makes it even more special for this farmer.
“If anybody’s been dedicated to farming and his community, it’s my dad,” Joe said of his father, Russell. “So it is special to receive the awards at the same time.”
The men are slated to receive their awards at the 91st Annual State Agricultural Convention in Atlantic City on Tuesday, February 7.
The younger Marino, 33, realizes how increasingly rare it is for people his age to go into farming, not only in New Jersey, but across the country as well.
“Farming is something you’re born with,” he said. “It’s not a normal life. It’s the hours, the work. You’ve got to love it to do it. As a kid, I would hide in my dad’s truck so he’d have to take me to work with him instead of going to school.”
While the Marino family farm, Marino Bros. Sun Valley Orchards in South Harrison Township, Gloucester County, was successful by any measure, it was Joe’s marketing plan that has gotten him noticed as an agricultural innovator and a leader in the next generation of New Jersey agriculture.
“Our farm was like most others,” he said. “We took everything to the produce auction. But I realized that allowing somebody else to control your business is not good for growth. If you’re smaller and you don’t have a lot of people working for you, that’s still the way to go. But we’re large enough that we can go some of the other routes as well. We still do take some things to the auction, but we’ve also incorporated the direct marketing.”
Currently, the Marinos employ 160 people on their farm, where they grow 1,000 acres of peaches and vegetables.
While his father remained in charge of farm operations and his older brother, Russell Jr., ran the packing house, Joe put his marketing plan into action and began aggressive direct-marketing efforts of the farm’s produce. While still selling some produce through brokers, he approached chain stores and wholesalers, and started a trucking company so he wouldn’t have to rely on contracting that work to others.
Soon, the expansion and growth Joe was looking for began to materialize.
“The product sells itself; what you’re selling is service and price,” he said. “We used to grow just a couple of products. This has afforded us the ability to expand our acreage, our volume. Now, we’re growing a larger mix of products.
“If you’re going to go this route, you have to be large enough and have enough volume to supply a chain store before they’ll even get on the phone with you. If you’re smaller, where you have to do all the growing and the picking and everything else by yourself, you wouldn’t have time to sell like this.”
New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles M. Kuperus said the simultaneous awards for both Joe and his father were indicative of both the multi-generational aspect of farming in the state and the need to adapt to changes in the marketplace.
“We want to do everything we can to encourage the next generation of farmers, whether they’re people like Joe who are making their mark on an ongoing family business or new people coming to farming for the first time,” said Secretary Kuperus. “What they have in common is that, like Joe, they think and implement new and innovative approaches to be successful in the marketplace.”