SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher officially declared the fall agritourism season underway earlier this week.
“Agritourism in New Jersey is a $60 million industry, and the fall season is a critical component in New Jersey’s overall tourism promotional strategy,” said Guadagno, who, as Secretary of State, oversees the Division of Travel and Tourism. “Promoting the Jersey Fresh brand, our fine vineyards and other on-farm attractions not only fuels our economy, but raises awareness of the state’s rich agricultural heritage.”
Agricultural tourism, or agritourism, in New Jersey offers affordable, family-oriented recreational and educational activities and opportunities to learn about the production of food and agricultural products and the state’s rich farming heritage while helping to encourage the preservation of agricultural lands.
“Being the most densely populated state, all of our agriculture is close to where people live, so New Jersey residents and visitors to the Garden State don’t have to look far to find fun and educational activities this fall at hundreds of farms across the state,” said Fisher. “There is so much to do and see on our farms this fall, from hayrides, pumpkin and apple-picking and corn mazes to farmers markets and wine tastings at one of the state’s 35 wineries. And, while they’re creating memories with their families, they are also helping to keep agriculture strong in our state.”
To highlight the wide variety of on-farm activities available, Fisher joined Bradley Hillman, Senior Associate Director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Director of Rutgers Cooperative Research, and Kevin MacConnell, Rutgers Deputy Director of Athletics at VonThun Farms in Monmouth Junction today to see a Rutgers football-themed corn maze. The 5-acre maze features a sculpted Rutgers helmet, football and Coach Greg Schiano’s “Keep Choppin’” mantra.
“This 5-acre corn maze honoring the Scarlet Knights football program is another example of the resourcefulness of our New Jersey farmers, who increasingly respond to the need to expand their operations through innovative marketing and agritourism,” said Hillman. “I am pleased to see the linkages made between the deep agricultural roots of New Jersey and the flagship institution of higher education in the state.”
Cindy VonThun, a graduate of Cook College (now SEBS) and her husband, Bob Jr. and his friend, Paul Junkiersky, both avid Rutgers football fans, came up with the idea for this year’s maze design to honor the team’s recent successful seasons. With three miles of twists and turns, the maze is laid out in two sections, for those who might want a shorter maze experience, and includes several ways to travel the maze, from no help at all, to following Scarlet Knight-themed clues to actually following a map.
The Von Thun farm dates back to 1913 when Henry VonThun, Bob’s great-grandfather, purchased 90 acres to grow potatoes and grain crops. In 1986, Bob and Cindy changed the farm’s focus to small fruits and vegetables, adding pick-your-own fields and a farm market. Greenhouses were added in 1989 and they now grow thousands of plants in their 15,000 square feet of greenhouse space. In 1995, the VonThuns expanded into fall activities on the farm. They grow thousands of mums and pansies, an apple orchard and many acres of pumpkins, as well as hayrides, the corn maze and fall harvest weekend activities.
Agritourism offers a variety of year-round experiences from pick-your-own produce, farm stands, wine tastings and horse back riding to hayrides, corn mazes and cut-your-own Christmas trees. In addition to revenues for farmers, a Rutgers University study found that for every dollar in agritourism sales generated on a New Jersey farm, 58 cents of additional sales are generated in a wide range of other allied businesses, such as restaurants, construction companies and insurance providers.
The study, conducted in 2007, found that more than one-fifth of New Jersey farms offered some form of agritourism, with 43 percent of New Jersey’s total farmland associated with farm operations engaged in agritourism. The study also showed that a large percentage of farms offering agritourism events derived most, if not all their income from those activities.
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