“I’m more concerned with being happy and trying to live the life I want to live, being fulfilled. That’s kind of my end goal above all else,” said Lisa VanHorn, 39, who works in technology but wants to start a brewery where she grows her own ingredients.
The program, funded in part by a USDA grant, is now in its second year. Students pay $400 to take online classes the first year, and the following year a select group is allowed to farm a plot at Cream Ridge for $800 per person. Couples taking the course together, like VanHorn and her husband, can pay $1,200 for the pair. The third year is about developing business plans.
“A lot of people here today don’t necessarily have formal agricultural training at a university. So we bring them up to speed so they can learn some of the basics,” Hlubik said, adding that the program relies on farmers who can share their expertise and mistakes with the new crop of future growers. “We become the pipeline of the university.”
Pearsall said program leaders will help their students analyze the soil, understand local zoning laws and even connect with farmers looking for employees.
“If we can save beginning farmers from making two or three critical mistakes before they become established farmers, then you know, we’ve done our job,” he said.
Jennifer Peters, 54, of East Brunswick, is a guidance counselor and wants to buy land in retirement.
“The average age of farmers is close to mine, and that’s why they try to get younger farmers. So I keep in mind that I have to think, ‘What can I handle and what makes sense to me at my age?’” she said.
“I really want to, you know, improve the ground and the dirt and just be outside, not at a desk, and just do something physical and totally different from what I’m used to doing.”