The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Beginner Farmer Training program was born from the desire to keep New Jersey’s farmland in the hands of farmers. In early 2020, our team of extension agents and Rutgers agriculture graduates sat down to figure out what we could do to grow and empower the next generation of Garden State farmers. The result of these meetings was the RU Ready to Farm-Beginner Farmer Training Program.
With financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginner Farmer and Rancher Development Program, we are determined to address one of the most pressing challenges in New Jersey agriculture, the need for new farmers. We have reached a point where many of our state’s best farmers are getting ready to retire and have a wealth of knowledge and experience they are looking to pass on to someone with the drive and work ethic to succeed in agriculture. That someone could be you.
New Jersey needs enthusiastic, motivated new and beginner farmers, but farming isn’t an easy profession to break into. To be ready to farm, you need to be able to do more than just grow food and fiber. You will need to learn to be a businessperson, a marketer, and a planner. You will need to develop the skills to repair your own equipment, to fix an engine, or to build a hen house.
It’s a lot for any one person to figure out on their own, but luckily, you’ll have help. Our team of agricultural experts and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension statewide network of specialists, farmers, and mentors will be here to guide you step-by-step through building your farm business, giving you the tools and expertise that you need to succeed. The only question is: RU Ready to Farm?
RU Ready to Farm Information Session-2021
Program Director: William (Bill) T. Hlubik
Bill is a county agricultural agent/professor and director for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County’s EARTH Center in South Brunswick, NJ. He also teaches two undergraduate courses at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences— “How to Start and Manage a Small Farm” and “Sustainable Agriculture”. Professor Hlubik has expertise in agricultural and food systems, specialty crop production, and direct marketing in agriculture. He conducts research on specialty crops, cover crops, soil amendments, direct marketing, and agricultural communications. Bill has more than 31 years of experience as a faculty member at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) providing advice, mentoring, leadership, and support for new and experienced farmers in New Jersey and the surrounding states. Professor Hlubik and the NJAES strawberry Team have developed and patented two strawberry varieties for the northeast, Rutgers Scarlett and D’Light. In his free time, Bill enjoys farming with his brothers on the family farm in Chesterfield, New Jersey. Bill’s hobbies include song writing and playing guitar.
Co-Program Director: William (Bill) Errickson
Bill is an Extension Agent and Assistant Professor in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County. Bill has worked in various aspects of the agricultural sector for the past 15 years, including starting and operating a diversified farm and nursery in coastal Maine. He has led courses focused on sustainable agriculture, creative marketing, and soil fertility for commercial growers, homeowners, and college students throughout New Jersey and New England. He has also served as a mentor for the MOFGA Journeyperson Beginner Farmer Program and has assisted several beginner farmers in establishing successful operations. Bill’s field trials at the Rutgers Fruit and Ornamental Research Extension Center in Cream Ridge, New Jersey focus on using regenerative agricultural practices to produce specialty crops that are suited to this region. Bill grew up as a frequent visitor of Island Beach State Park and spends his free time surfing and fishing along the coast of Monmouth and Ocean County.
Co-Program Director: Lauren Errickson, MS
Lauren is a Senior Program Administrator with Rutgers Cooperative Extension. Her responsibilities include coordinating the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market and Rutgers Against Hunger, initiatives focused on improving healthy food access to reduce both campus and community food insecurity. Before joining RCE, Lauren operated a diversified, horse-powered farm in rural Maine, where she co-founded a farmers market and local foods cooperative. In the non-profit sector, she has coordinated agricultural education programs and served as a mentor to new and beginning farmers. Lauren’s recent research and community-based projects include understanding urban community food preferences; connecting farmers with value-added product infrastructure through creative business models; development of a fruit and vegetable “prescription” program in partnership with a no-cost medical clinic; and increasing farmer sales and consumer intake of fresh fruits and vegetables through farmers market incentive programs. A lifelong equestrian, Lauren enjoys both trail riding and dressage training with her draft horse, Riley.
Program Coordinator: Brendon Pearsall
Brendon is a lover of plants and the outdoors. He has a background in carpentry and a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Food Systems from Rutgers University. While earning his degree he had the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in New Jersey agriculture and also started his own small farm business, growing and arranging cut flowers. Brendon lives in Central New Jersey with his wife and two children, and when he’s not out gardening with his daughter you can usually find him in the woodshop planning out his next project. If you need advice on growing plants, building a chicken coop, or fixing up your old hayride wagon, he’s your guy.
Farm Coach: Alex Sawatzky
Alex studied history in college but found his passion for growing food while participating in a nine-month internship at a sustainable living and environmental education center in Costa Rica. Upon returning to the States, he began his farming career as an intern at Living Hope Farm in Pennsylvania in 2010. He then went on to start Sandbrook Meadow Farm in Stockton, NJ—a certified organic farm and CSA. After the 2018 season he passed the reins to his long-time assistant manager, so he could focus on completing his master’s degree in sustainable food systems and pursue his dream of becoming a sustainable agriculture educator. He joined Rutgers University in April 2019 as the Student Farm Manager at Rutgers Gardens. He is also a part-time instructor in the Agriculture and Food Systems Program, and the market manager of Cook’s Market. Alex’s ultimate goal is to help change the way that food is produced and consumed in the world. In pursuit of this goal, he aspires to teach others about the importance of food and agriculture in consideration of human and environmental health and justice. He not only has a passion for growing food, but also for cooking and eating! Alex’s favorite agricultural item from our region is sweet potatoes. He loves their versatility, but generally favors savory applications such as wedges with homemade chipotle mayo, mashed with rutabaga using herbed cream, or in curried lentils with swiss chard, cilantro, and lime. Yum!
Program Assistant: Ash C. Dunlevy
Ash is a Rutgers Class of 2021 undergraduate studying Agriculture & Food Systems as well as Plant Sciences. He has experience working with the Rutgers Hazelnut Breeding Program and is currently working part-time on an organic farm in Central New Jersey while he finishes his degree. Ash enjoys spending his free time outdoors, staying active, and exploring different types of fine teas.
Agricultural Agent: Peter Nitzsche
Peter Nitzsche is an Agricultural Agent with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Morris County, New Jersey. He conducts educational programs in commercial vegetable and small fruit production and marketing. He has a B.S. degree in Plant Science and an M.S. degree in Horticulture from Rutgers the State University. He has conducted research on a wide range of crops and has focused recently on tomatoes, strawberries and the evaluation of unique ethnic and specialty crops.
- United States Department of Agriculture–National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- The County of Middlesex
- Bob VonThun (VonThun Farm)
- Tim VonThun (VonThun Farm)
- David Specca (Specca Farm)
- Steven Specca (Specca Farm)
- James Klett (Fairgrown Farm)
- Jim Giamarese (Giamarese Farm and Orchards)
- Allison Akbay (Snapping Turtle Farm)