HOWELL – A local farm was recently recognized by New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher as the 2020 winning farm for the Jersey Fresh Farm to School award.
Drop the Beet Farms of Freehold, which received the award, took a unique approach with its Farm to School program by constructing a 20,000-gallon aquaponics facility operating out of Calgo Gardens in Howell.
Cody Parker, the manager of Drop the Beet Farms, received the award during the 10th Annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week. 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.
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.
Each system is constructed to accommodate the unique needs of the individual school,” 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 Farms has installed aquaponics systems in several schools in New Jersey which can combine to produce more than 5,000 heads of lettuce each year. 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.
Parker said, “I really enjoy encouraging students to learn about the different methods there are for growing food. 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 at Greater Newark Conservancy
- Millers Hill Farm, Mendham
- Readington River Buffalo Company, LLC, Flemington
- Schieferstein Farm, Clark
Jersey Fresh Farm to School promotional materials were presented to each winning farms. All farms who submit an application and meet the criteria are added to our list of Farmer Recognition Program farms.
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.
To learn more about this program, visit farmtoschool.nj.gov.