May 24, 2019 | 60° F

This new Rutgers course lets students grow their own food


Courtesy of Bill Hlubik | The Rutgers Cooperative Extension is offering a 1-credit farming class to help students or other members of the community learn how to grow their own food this semester, in partnership with established farmers.

Rutgers students interested in growing their own food now have a new class to help them learn techniques necessary to developing their own farm.

Both students and members of the New Brunswick community can take part in the 1-credit course "RU Ready to Farm," as it is offered through the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, said Gillian Armstrong, project manager and assistant instructor, and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences graduate student.

This program was developed out of demand from the community, she said.

This course is intended to “de-mystify" any misinterpretations of what agriculture is. There has been a recent surge in interest for farming, she said.

The course will meet on Oct. 22, Oct. 26 and Nov. 5.

“I think it has a lot to do with the media and people wanting to know where their food comes from,” Armstrong said. "We get calls all the time from people wanting to know how they can start farming."

Other land grant universities had beginner farmer programs, but New Jersey did not, she said.

Farming is difficult to get into for anybody, said Bill Hlubik, County Extension Department Head and an agricultural head with the Cooperative Extension program.

The course also aims to make students aware of what is available for a farmer, so anyone who wants to start farming has a really clear idea of what’s available. There are many different ways to get started, and many different paths a person can take, Armstrong said.

Armstrong manages the recently funded Farm Services Agency Outreach Program, which aims to increase awareness of the various assistance programs that are available to farmers, she said.

There are grants available to assist those interested in starting, said Hlubik, who is another professor for the course. At his first class, he plans to tell students anecdotes of farmers who were able to start with nothing and grow their farms.

Especially due to the metropolitan areas surrounding New Jersey, the opportunities are just endless for sales, but farmers have to be creative, he said.

"Our mission is to get practical, applied research information out so people can use it," he said. The idea of this course is to give people an overview of the complexities of farming.”

In this course, farmers are linked with students. The course mixes those with experience and those without, trying to invigorate and invite new people into the world of farming, he said.

The idea is based around horticultural therapy, which essentially reconnects people back to the land, animals and food they consume, he said.

Carlos Carrero, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said horticulture therapy is a way to escape some of the issues of the world. Carrero is also a resident of the Helyar House, a cooperative living residence hall located on College Farm Road.

“When you get in there (the greenhouse), it is a place away from everything else,” he said. “There’s no exam to worry about, there’s no assignments. You do your job within the context of the greenhouse.” 

Some of the challenges in developing the course began with recognizing what beginners do and do not know, Hlubick said. Both he and Armstrong were raised on farms, and so they would sometimes take for granted concepts they have just known their whole life.

The course also aims to debunk some myths surrounding farming, and provide a realistic perspective, Armstrong said.

Farming is not easy, Armstrong said. The plants do not grow and harvest themselves.

Farmers need to be skilled in a lot of areas, such as business management, person to person interactions and have adequate farming knowledge, Hlubik said.

People also do not use as many pesticides as is assumed, he said.

Local farms and community-supported agriculture are really doing a good job of minimizing pesticide use and having a really healthy, safe product, he said.

There is a 3-credit version of the course, which some members of the Helyar House are taking, Carrero said.

R. Emmet Brennan, president of the Helyar House and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, said the Helyar House is a cooperative living community.

"We clean the house ourselves. We cook for ourselves," Brennan said. "Students from that house are maintaining all of the plants in the greenhouse, which will then be used for food, which we will then use that part of our communal dinners. Everyone in that house has to work together."

The 3-credit option involves weekly classes with Hlubik, and work in a greenhouse or farm. From the moment this course came to fruition, a lot of people have jumped forward with interest, Carrero said.

"In the coming month, four students will be building a chicken coop to house chickens,” Hlubik said. "The Helyar House will also compost waste, so then the nutrients can go back to the greenhouse."

The House hopes to have food production throughout this semester and next semester as well, he said.

The response from farmers has been overwhelmingly positive, Hlubik said. They donated seeds and plants, which can be used in the class for teaching, as well as maintained by students in the Helyar House.

“Farmers are the most generous people you will ever meet,” Hlubik said.

Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in linguistics and French literature. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.

Faith Hoatson

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