The state of New Jersey has been a part of the United States since before it was a country. When the land was occupied by Native Americans, the ground was cultivated and the fertile soil used to plant and fish in the Atlantic Ocean and the many rivers. It is believed that because of the high fertility of the ground, the populations who lived there were less adept at hunting and defense, thus making them easy targets for the European settlers, first from the Netherlands and then the Swedes before falling under the control of the British. Even as a colony of Great Britain, New Jersey was integral because of its agriculture and fertile soil which grew foods not just for people within the colonies but that could also be exported back to England. It was believed that the vast majorities of people living in New Jersey at the time were farmers or were engaged in an industry which benefited from farming. Even in the modern period, farming and agriculture are still integral parts of New Jersey's economy. However, as with most things in history, the agricultural profile of the New Jersey farmer has changed considerably since colonial times with the industrialization of the trade.
During the American Revolution, the land that would become the state of New Jersey was an integral part of the war effort, not only because of the harvests but the farmers themselves. It was stated that farming was the backbone of the national endeavor to become a sovereign nation.[footnoteRef:1] Many New Jersey farmers became Minutemen.[footnoteRef:2] The Minutemen were able to fulfill an important role in the American Revolution. For many communities, these men were the first line of defense before the more organized Continental Army could arrive. The people who were recruited to be Minutemen were traditionally under the age of twenty five and had to have certain physical characteristics which made them adept at soldiering. Young men who had been raised on rural farms and had many years spent in intensive farm labor were perfectly suited to this task. They were an elite group, chosen for enthusiasm, reliability, and their physical strength (Minutemen). It was extremely important that these specially chosen men be in the best physical condition so that they would be best able to fulfill their roles within the community and within the context of the larger military endeavor. [1: "Two of republicanism's staple ingredients were the stubborn quest for independence -- personal and political -- and the related belief the farming and handicraft production were the most moral of all livelihoods" (Green 67). ] [2: Reports of the Minutemen's brave stand against the far more armed and well-organized British Redcoats has become synonymous with the mythology of the Founding Fathers and the Shot Heard 'Round the World. However, following this heroic endeavor, the Minutemen spent the majority of the remaining part of the war performing far less legendary activities such as guarding armories, and fighting Native Americans on the frontier. ]
New Jersey was nicknamed "The Garden State" in 1926 to reflect its verdant landscape and rich soil (Barna). The American South was heavily agricultural and the north became more focused on industry and manufacturing, except for New Jersey. However, that changed when the ground started to be less hospitable and the harvests less bountiful. The majority of New Jersey settlers were farmers, but after a century in the New World, there were massive crop failures in the state.[footnoteRef:3] Part of the reason for this was that over planting had taken much of the nutrients out of the soil and had made it more difficult for healthy plants to grow. In the 1850s, surveys were taken of the land to better support the farmers and ensure a better harvest (Historical). At that time, much of farming was done by hand wherein employees or slaves would harvest the product and then it would be sold and shipped to wherever in the world it was destined to be sent. It was difficult work. People had to dig the holes and plant the seeds and drive the mules which pushed the plows. The harvest would be by hand with the use of a few tools. Often, people on the farm would be severely injured, some even killed by the literally back breaking labors that they had to perform. [3: "The apparently inexhaustible expanse of untouched land invited exploitation. There appeared to be little need for conservation and careful cultivation. Fertilizers were not used, fields instead of crops were rotated after the medieval fashion, nor was winter fodder provided for the cattle, which gazed in unfenced fields" (Koedel). ]
In the late 1800s, people began to turn away from agriculture with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. People who had before made their livings by farming were instead turning to factory work and manufacturing. Farmhands, who had in the olden days been plentiful, partly due to the now defunct practice of slavery, were leaving the farms en masse to go work in the factories. This was a major change for farmers who now had to take care of their lands on their own.[footnoteRef:4] The growing of large cities into metropolises of heretofore unknown proportion also drew the laborers away from the farms and into the urban areas. Manufacturing of products from silk to firearms became a large source of the state's economy and the subsequent pollution from the factories did nothing to help the natural resources which had been so plentiful and provided so much for so many people not so long ago (Green 273).[footnoteRef:5] [4: At the time, it was believed the farmers and farming comprised half of the nation's workforce (Dimitri). ] [5: In the 1970s, the first legislative movements went to work although there were heavy debates about curbing pollution for fear it might endanger manufacturing. In 1972, a hearing was held to discuss the issue of pollution, one of the first of its kind.]
The industrial revolution changed the ways that people farmed because it introduced new machines and devices which could make the harvest time faster and thereby increase the profits of the landowners.[footnoteRef:6] It was feared the following the end of slavery, farms would not be sustainable because the employees would all have to be paid, decreasing the profits for the farmer. For the first time, the work that had taken months and required hundred of laborers could be done in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the necessary capital, making farming once again highly profitable.[footnoteRef:7] [6: According to the United States Departement of Agriculture, "From complete reliance on animal power in 1900, farmers rapidly embraced mechanical power. Tractors had essentially replaced animal power by 1970" (Dimitri). ] [7: According to the United States Department of Agriculture, "Output from U.S. farms has grown dramatically, allowing consumers to spend an increasingly smaller portion of their income on food and freeing a large share of the population to enter nonfarm occupations that have supported economic growth and development" (Dimitri). ]
During the early 20th century, new importance was placed on agricultural enterprises in New Jersey. Following the Stock Market Crash of 1919, many people lost their life savings and their jobs in the other economic industries. More people turned back to farming as a means of supporting themselves and their families. However, this did not turn out very well for everyone. Overharvesting in the Midwest had created land that would not grow anything. People could not afford their mortgages and the banks took over their farms, leaving them destitute and looking outward for work and for food. With the Great Dust Bowl happening in the middle of the United States, the west and east coasts became the predominant farming communities in the country, revitalizing the need for farmers in New Jersey.[footnoteRef:8] [8: Despite the fact that much of the nation was suffering at this time, partly because of its high population of farmers and farmland, it has been established the New Jersey as a whole did not suffer as badly as other places during the Depression (Harrison 25). ]
In 1916, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture was created, reflecting the importance that agriculture was viewed by the state government (Barna). Among the myriad of jobs of the department was the historical recording of agricultural processes, including photographs and documents all relating to the farming community. In recent times, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture has promoted farmers and, according to their website, they have an agenda with includes the intent to "expand export markets for fresh and processed agricultural products, and promote our commercial fishing industry" (About). The job of the department since its inception has been to enhance the respect that the agricultural community receives
As of 2002, there were an estimated 19,000 farmers working within New Jersey (Adam).[footnoteRef:9] There are nearly 10,000 farms with more than 50 devoted to solely organic farming techniques and protocols. The rise of industrial or corporate…