by Elaine Madigan
I came to Terhune Orchards in the fall of 1991. I responded to a hand written sign Pam Mount had posted on the bulletin board: tour guides wanted. Since I had just finished a summer internship at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed and was a regular volunteer at Howell Farm, I felt I could be a tour guide at Terhune Orchards.
Pam agreed to bring me on board for that fall, but there was a small catch. She said, By the way, my Apple Day festival is this weekend. Could you spare a few hours to help out? That’s how spent my first day at Terhune Orchards — pouring apple cider for 8-plus hours. I went on to lead the school tours that fall, and 13 years later, here I am still doing farm tours each fall.
Over these 13 years, Pam and Gary have encouraged my personal growth and professional development and to follow my interests. As a result, I have expanded the education program offerings at Terhune Orchards to include those in the spring, summer, and fall. We have yet to find anything other than our Wassail the Apple Tress that draws people to the farm during the winter. After all, leafless trees and barren meadows are not very exciting.
Over the years, I have learned much by working with Pam and Gary. Observing their involvement in the community and their active roll in New Jersey Agriculture is infectious – it must have rubbed off on me! I was asked to apply to and was accepted into the New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program, a two-year program sponsored by the NJ Agricultural Society.
My class, the fifth in the organization’s ten-year history, became graduates in June 2005. When we began the program, two years sounded like a long time. But I think my classmate Tannwen Mount would agree that those two years just flew by. As I look back on my experiences, the program truly surpassed my expectations.
Our first seminar was held at the Fairview YMCA camp in northern New Jersey, a meeting that set the groundwork for our future. Here, 22 strangers came together with one thing in common, agriculture in New Jersey. The fruit and vegetable growers were joined by nursery men, a chemist, a member of the USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service, a master gardener/freelance writer, a Future Farmers of America official, a 4H [youth group] officer, a bank loan officer, and farmers of oysters, dairy products, rabbits, and turkeys. Also present was a Rutgers University research scientist, a chemist, a high school teacher, and the director of the NJ Farmers Against Hunger program. An interesting collection of people, to say the least!
After the first hours, we knew everyone’s name — really all 22 thanks to a few tips and techniques on remembering names and how to make small talk at social events. The revealing results of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test showed itself as we participated in team-building exercises on the outdoor challenge course. We also got our first taste of public speaking as we shared our stories with our classmates. The proverbial molehill for some, and a mountain for most. We did, however, discover that we were as diverse as the garden state is itself, with only the garden in common.
Our seminars took us all over the state to investigate a variety of topics. We studied land issues in the Highlands, and bio-terrorism in Hamilton, to oyster farming in Cape May. A visit to the State House in Trenton and a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. gave us insight into the ways politics can shape public policy.
We also participated in the NJ State Agricultural conventions to see the agricultural infrastructure at work – how the state Department of Agriculture interfaces with the Farm Bureau, the NJ Agricultural Society, and the NJ Grange, and how they all support the efforts of Rutgers University.
As part of one convention, NJ Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus challenged us to research renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, and bio fuels such as ethanol. A special task force was formed to research and write the report. As a member of the task force, we described the research and outlined the economic advantages and possible funding sources available to farmers interested in pursing renewable energy. With the high cost of energy, this was a timely topic. The report was presented to the Executive Board of the NJ Department of Agriculture and to the NJ Agricultural Society.
Farm visits were something I expected that we would do; visiting internationally competitive fisheries was not. Our group visited Export, Inc. as well as the Viking and Lund Fisheries in Viking Village at Barnegat. We were lucky to be able to board a Lund boat just returning from the open sea. A tour of their largest boat with a hull full of squid gave me a new appreciation for our fish industry (Is it calamari or is it bait?).
One seminar was dedicated to social issues took us to the city of Paterson, NJ, which provided us with a very different view of our garden state. While in Paterson, we learned about its rich history and importance during the Industrial Revolution. We visited two high schools, Eastside High and Panther Academy, and walked through the Passaic County jail to hear the inmates’ stories in a scared straight session. To be honest, I felt more unsettled in the Eastside High School than I did in the jail.
While in Paterson we were laborers who helped Habitat for Humanity finish the landscaping on a new house in Paterson. At Eva’s Village Halfway House in downtown Paterson we observed a grassroots commitment to community improvement. What did this have to do with agriculture, you might ask? Nothing. But it had everything to do with culture.
To gain further insight about agriculture as citizens of the world, we attended an international seminar in Spain. Our first stop was Madrid. We visited Madrid’s Town Hall, the Plaza de Mayor, and other places of interest. From there we traveled south and east stopping in cities along the way. We saw miles and miles of greenhouses, saffron and dairy farms, an agri-tourism fish farm, made a 3am visit to the fish market, the Goya Company, an evening of Flamenco, and so much more. Our focus on this trip was the same as at home in the USA. Spain is the land of El Greco, Don Quixote, and olive trees. According to information we were told, Spain has 380,000,000 olive trees. We believe we saw all 380,000,000 of them!
All-in-all, it was a memorable trip, but even more, a very memorable two years. During these two years we built a network of friends and business contacts. Saw the beautiful, and the not-so-beautiful, side of New Jersey, and experienced personal growth. So what’s next for the Fifth Graduating Class of the NJ Ag Society? When an agri-cause presents itself, we will be ready and able to take the lead and respond to protect the wonderful features and activities that truly make New Jersey the Garden State.