Young adults in New Jersey find new interest in farming careers

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Agriculture has been on the decline in New Jersey over the past few decades, with many old farms being bought by developers.

But farming is not dead in the Garden State. An increasing number of young adults have started to become interested in careers in farming.

Brendon Pearsall, 27, is a rookie farmer working on Giamarese Farms in East Brunswick. His parents weren’t farmers and he previously worked as a carpenter. He says that the whole thing started as a joke with his wife, who is a nurse.

“It was just kind of a recurring joke that came up over and over again that maybe we should quit all this and go live on a farm,” he says. “One day I kind of took the joke seriously and said ‘What would happen if we did?’”

Pearsall is now taking agricultural classes at Rutgers University while also growing flowers on some land loaned to him by the owners of Giamarese Farm. He also works full-time tending to crops like strawberries and asparagus.

Pearsall is part of what Rutgers University Agriculture Professor Bill Hlubik says has taken him by surprise - a discernible wave of younger New Jerseyans looking for careers on the farm.

“It's really surprising because even when I was young I don't remember that many people that were interested in farming,” Hlubik says.

The number of undergraduate students in Rutgers agriculture programs is up more than 50 percent from just a few years ago.

“So they go from being encouraged to maybe getting an internship on a farm,” Hlubik says.

Experts say that there may be several reasons why younger adults are becoming interested in farming, such as disenfranchisement with office careers and a booming trend towards locally and sustainably produced foods.

The wave of younger farmers is a good thing for the state. The average age of farmers in New Jersey is now about 60 years old.

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