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The Eastern Produce Council’s Leadership Program 2019 group received a warm welcome from County Agent I Peter Nitzsche, also a professor for the Rutgers Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, June 4 at the Snyder Research & Extension Farm in Pittstown, N,J.

The group spent the day touring the farm, learning about the Rutgers Research and Extension program, and honing their leadership and communication skills in an afternoon classroom session.

Nitzsche provided an overview of the farm stating, “We’re happy to welcome you to the Rutgers Center for Sustainable Agriculture: The Clifford E. and Melda C. Snyder Research and Extension Farm. Clifford and Melda Snyder were farmers and very active in the agricultural community and when they passed on decided to bequeath the 390-acre farm to Rutgers for use as a research facility. This farm is utilized by Rutgers to conduct research on sustainable agriculture and to address problems faced by farmers in northern New Jersey.”

EPC Executive Director Susan McAleavey Sarlund led the Leadership students during their tour and commented the goal behind the group was simple.

“We wanted to give the group a chance to get real-life, hands-on experience as part of this exceptional program and touring Snyder Farm was the perfect choice for the third component of the program,” she said.

The group had previously toured Gloucester Port and Terminal in Gloucester City, N.J., and Greenyard Logistics in Swedesboro, N.J., and attended a FSMA seminar at the end of April.

The tour of the farm began with a wagon ride to the strawberry patch where the students learned about the various forms of trials and testing that occur at the farm. Nitzche allowed the EPC Leadership team to pick some strawberries to bring home, explaining that the majority of New Jersey strawberry farmers do so for the agritourism segment, i.e. “pick your own” as they are very labor intensive to pick.

They continued along the wagon ride where they learned that while the farm is primarily for research, they do sell some of the surplus crop to the Rutgers University dining services when appropriate and they have also donated over $1.7 million of fresh produce to local food banks to help combat food scarcity in the area.

The “students” in the Leadership Program were able to get their hands dirty too. A few of them helped to plant new Yacon plants that the university is testing for potential fall options for local farmers to expand their crop offerings.

After a lunch provided by the team at the farm, the EPC group participated in an afternoon session in a classroom environment. Stan Elson, adjunct professor for Rutgers University, conducted the afternoon educational session with a focus on communication and leadership skills.

“It was great to see the group engage in the exercises Stan put together about personality traits and how to effectively interact with colleagues who may be quite different in an effort to meet common goals,” Sarlund said.

The Leadership Group will meet again in September to tour Wightman Farms in Morristown, N.J., and conclude their yearlong program at the New York Produce Show and Conference in December.

For more information about the EPC Leadership Program or to become a member of the Eastern Produce Council, visit www.easternproducecouncil.com.

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