At right, Jenny Carleo, RCE agricultural agent of Cape May County, discusses tomato crop management with farmer Jen Gleason of Hand’s Stand Market in Rio Grande, NJ.

Photo by Joseph Alvarez

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) of Cape May County received a $460,170 grant by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of a multi-million federal award to organizations to develop training and provide resources for beginning farmers and ranchers across the U.S.

The three-year grant, awarded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will be used by RCE to educate new and beginning farmers in New Jersey on how to grow high value crops on small acreage.

“We are so pleased that Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s continuing programs to educate new and beginning farmers in the Garden State has received this important investment from the USDA in food production systems,” said Larry Katz, director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension and senior associate director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, which RCE is a part of.

Funding was secured through a collaborative Rutgers proposal, “Ultra-Niche Crops for the Progressive, New Farmer,” prepared by Jenny Carleo, agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County. The award will be used to fund a series of classes on growing 18 crops, including strawberries, basil, roselle, sweet potato vine, hot peppers and mushrooms.

“This Rutgers project will provide training and information on how farmers can make more money with less land,” said Carleo.

Helping to guide the choice of crops as well as the implementation of this project will be a stakeholder advisory council comprised of farmers, Farm Credit East and multiple agricultural support organizations, including the New Jersey Agricultural Society and the New Jersey Farm Bureau.

Through the project, farmers will be able to evaluate whether or not each crop will work for their operation, stressed Carleo. Among the resources to which farmers will have access are a series of video factsheets, virtual fieldtrips and crop profiles with budgets that will be available online through the university.

“Our goal for this project is to equip our next generation of food producers to achieve early crop and financial success, as well as to help sustain the operations of existing farmers,” Carleo added.

On Oct. 8, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced the awarding of a total of $17 million in new grants to benefit beginning farmers and ranchers, declaring that “an investment in our beginning farmers and ranchers is also an investment in our future.”

“When new farmers and ranchers start their operations, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program can help them implement tested strategies and new ideas that in turn benefit all of us by reducing food insecurity, growing economic opportunities and building communities,” said Harden.

According to the USDA, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was first established by the 2008 Farm Bill and was continued in the 2014 Farm Bill. The program provides support to those who have farmed or ranched for less than 10 years. NIFA awards grants to organizations throughout the United States that implement programs to train beginning farmers and ranchers, which may take place through workshops, educational teams, training or technical assistance.

Since 2009, 184 awards have been made for more than $90 million through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. These awards are part of USDA's deep commitment to empowering beginning farmers and ranchers across America.