New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher recognized Drop the Beet Farms in Monmouth County as the 2020 winning farm for the Jersey Fresh Farm to School Farmer Recognition Award.
The presentation took place on the farm during the 10th Annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, being held September 21-25.
The program is an opportunity for farmers to promote their Farm to School efforts and to connect with students in schools who are the next generation of Jersey Fresh consumers.
Drop the Beet Farms has taken a unique approach with its Farm to School program by constructing a 20,000-gallon aquaponics facility operating out of Calgo Gardens in Howell.
Manager Cody Parker works with schools to build their own aquaponics system and students are involved at every step by integrating the design process into the STEM curriculum.
“That each system is constructed to accommodate the unique needs of the individual school points to the technology and ingenuity Drop the Beet has developed,” Fisher said. “These types of systems allow students to grow their own produce all year long and can facilitate Farm to School programs throughout the state.”
Drop the Beet Farm has installed aquaponics systems in several schools in New Jersey which can combine to produce more than 5,000 heads of lettuce each year. Also, the Rumson School District now has an after-school garden club where more than 200 fourth graders participated in a mushroom workshop.
They are expecting to harvest more than 80 pounds of the gourmet delicacy this year.
Drop the Beet also has a mobile aquaponics system that it takes to other schools to help them learn more about sustainable agriculture practices.
The farm also features a tour where students do a water chemistry exercise, and a pick-your-own salad to take home.
“I really enjoy encouraging students to learn about the different methods there are for growing food,” Parker said. “To see the expansion of this program and the increased interest after the systems have been installed has been a very rewarding part of this process.”
Other entrants for the Jersey Fresh Farm to School 2019-2020 Farmer Recognition Award were:
• Allaire Community Farms, Wall Township
• Alstede Farms, Chester
• Cheyenne’s Road Market, Mt. Laurel
• Donaldson Farms Farm Market, Hackettstown
• Edel Haus Alpaca Farm, Wall Township
• Etsch Farms, Monroe Township
• Fernbrook Farm, Chesterfield
• Free Haven Farms, Lawnside
• Grow it Green Morristown
• Hawthorne Ave Farm @ Greater Newark Conservancy
• Millers Hill Farm, Mendham
• Readington River Buffalo Company, LLC, Flemington
• Schieferstein Farm, Clark
Each farm received Jersey Fresh Farm to School promotional materials.
All farms that submit an application and meet the criteria are added to a list of farmer recognition program participants. To see all the recognition program farms and schools, check the department’s program map.
The influence of the Farm to School Program led to more than 250 schools purchasing local produce from their main distributor, more than 200 districts buying local produce directly from farms and using a curriculum that ties cafeteria meals to healthy eating education and more than 100 districts organizing field trips to farms.
Agriculture is an economic key in New Jersey, known as the Garden State.
New Jersey’s third largest industry, behind pharmaceuticals and tourism, more than 9,000 farms here generated cash receipts of more than $1 billion in 2017.
To learn more, visit www.farmtoschool.nj.gov.
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