A blast from the farming past Students learn marketing and a little history by selling produce
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Sep 07, 2007 | 621 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For a few months, New Jersey became The Garden State again as students from Bayonne High School picked up the annual tradition of selling fruits and vegetables at a farm stand on the lawn of City Hall.

The program, which is run in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, is designed to teach kids business and people skills, while marketing food items grown on New Jersey farms.

Each July the farm stand opens for business, as part of the Youth Farm Stand Program, a cooperative effort between Bayonne High School and the Bayonne Faith Based Center.

New Jersey earned its nickname as "The Garden State" for innovations in farming, which were developed in the years following the American Revolution. As testimony to this program, Rutgers University added a School of Farming to its campus. Later, the State Agricultural Experiment Station was opened in New Brunswick, where farmers could learn the best ways of raising animals and crops. At its peak of success just after World War II, New Jersey farmers had a greater income per acre than any other state, part of this due to its specializing in particular crops. Income for farm workers also was among the highest in New Jersey because of the skills required in using more advanced farming machinery. Although farms in Hudson County began to fade in the 1940s with many of the farms closing in places like Secaucus in the 1950s, New Jersey's farming community remained a viable industry until the late 1980s, when development encroached on many traditional farming communities. In reaction, the state enacted Smart Growth legislation that has helped curb new growth in many parts of the state and encouraged the redevelopment of blighted industrial areas instead.

While New Jersey is no longer a leader in raising poultry as it was as late as 1965, its still has significant farm products, such as tomato, cranberry, blueberry and dairy products.

The stand, located on the corner of 26th Street and Avenue C, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students sell corn, peaches and other items that have been purchased from New Jersey farmers. The farm stand, in its own way, helps maintain New Jersey's farming tradition.

Many of the senior citizens - and even some of their adult children - could remember a time when farm stands like the one in front of City Hall were common sights along the state's highways, where baskets and cartons of fresh produce could be procured. Many families stopped at these on the way back from the Jersey Shore.

Maggie Gad, one of the students involved in this year's program, said senior citizens frequently mentioned these stands when coming to shop at the one in front of City Hall.

While older residents may see the stand as a nostalgic blast from the past, for students like Gad, this is both a summer job and an education.

"It's an amazing experience," Gad said.

Since this is her first year involved with the program, each aspect is new to her, she said, although she finds working with the team of teachers and students rewarding.

"Sometimes people stop by and tell some interesting stories," she said, calling the job both an education in social studies and local history. "I also get the meet people from Bayonne that I wouldn't get to meet otherwise."

Teacher Chris Wolfer, who was involved in the program last year, said that for some of the students involved, this was a new experience.

Students apply for a summer job at the stand, and in the process get an education about marketing. More importantly, they learn how to deal with customers in face-to-face interactions.

The program works with the city's Office on Aging, and seniors get discounts on their purchases. The program also accepts vouchers under the state's special supplemental nutrition program, Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

The Bayonne program is based on a statewide initiative that began in 1994 by Cook College at Rutgers University, in an effort to promote the state's farming industry and to help young people become familiar with many facets of business and finance that go into operating a small retail center.

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