Douglas H. Fisher
New Jersey State Secretary of Agriculture
Douglas H. Fisher is a lifelong resident of an agricultural area in New Jersey. His focus as Secretary of Agriculture is to support New Jersey’s working farms and help ensure the Garden State’s continued status as an agricultural powerhouse by promoting the state’s diverse agricultural sectors while uniting them under a common message that underscores their importance to the state’s economy, their crucial role in maintenance of a safe and healthy food supply and their contribution to an enhanced quality of life for all NJ residents.
As Secretary, Fisher serves as the Chairman of the State Agriculture Development Committee, Chairman of the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Bank Board, and Chairman of the State Soil Conservation Committee. In addition, he serves as Vice President of Food Export-Northeast, Secretary/Treasurer of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and Secretary for the Northeast Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Fisher was born in Bridgeton in 1947. He graduated from Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, where he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration. He served in the New Jersey National Guard from 1969 to 1975. In 1971, he began a 30-year career as a supermarket owner and operator.
Fisher’s political career began in 1989 when he served on the Bridgeton City Council. From there, he was elected to the Cumberland County Freeholder Board, where he served for 10 years, half of that time as Board Director. While a freeholder, Fisher helped to institute a set-aside for farmland preservation. From 2001 to 2009, he served as Assemblyman in the 3rd legislative district, which encompasses Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties.
While in the Assembly, Fisher served as Deputy Majority Whip and Chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He also served on the Budget, Regulatory Oversight, Regulated Professions and Telecommunications and Utilities Committees. As a state legislator, Fisher sponsored numerous farmland, open space, and preservation bills. In 2008, he was the prime sponsor of the law to ban harvesting of Horseshoe Crabs, which enhanced the survival of many endangered migratory shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere. He sponsored organic labeling legislation and he also introduced the original bill to limit the use of handheld cell phones in motor vehicles.
In addition to his political positions, Fisher has been a member of the Bridgeton Rotary for more than 25 years and is a past-President of the South Jersey Freeholders Association; past-Treasurer of the South Jersey Economic Development District; and, past-Secretary of the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization.
New Jersey is in a budget crisis and all Departments of state government have faced drastic cuts in the last couple of years, including the Department of Agriculture. Even with the dire economic condition of the state, agriculture continues to thrive. It’s a diverse agriculture, with all sorts of niche crops, from Asian Pears to all types of herbs to pole lima beans. It’s the adaptability of our farmers that keeps our industry growing.
We’re seeing more on-farm power generation through solar and wind. We’re seeing an increase in organic production and community supported agriculture, where people can buy shares of a farmer’s crops to reserve themselves a certain amount of produce each week. And, we’re seeing more agri-tourism opportunities – and some of them very creative, like a dairy day camp I visited last summer.
Cash receipts from all New Jersey farm marketing continue to surpass the billion dollar mark. The Garden State boasts many commodities that rank in the top 10 for production in the country: Nationally, we rank third in cranberries, peaches and spinach, fourth in blueberries and bell peppers, sixth in cucumbers, eighth in tomatoes and ninth in squash. In December the Census of Horticulture was released, and New Jersey ranked eighth in the nation for gross sales of horticulture crops.
Last year, we permanently preserved 98 farms, totaling 7,731 acres, bringing the statewide total of preserved farmland to 189,547 acres – or about one-quarter of New Jersey’s farmland base. The number of wineries increased to 39, more than triple the amount from several years ago. Last year, 13 new community farmers markets opened, bringing the total to more than 140 markets, where our farmers direct-marketed their products and accepted WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons and Food stamp SNAP cards.
Because of the budget cuts, we’ve had to creatively use our resources to get the maximum benefit. We continued to work with food retailers to purchase and promote Jersey Fresh produce. But, we are now partnering with: restaurants, hotels, hospitals, wholesale clubs and university food services. All have made commitments to regularly serve and sell Jersey Fresh during the growing season.
We are continuing to build upon our Farm to School program, working with school districts and farmers to help bring fresh, local produce to students for their lunch and breakfast programs. Governor Christie signed a bill that designates the last week in September as Farm to School Week. The Department will be coordinating the effort, which will celebrate local farmers’ produce and encourage school districts to improve nutrition for their students.
We’ve sought out federal grant money at every turn. As part of the Farm to School effort, through a $51,000 federal grant, we are working in partnership with Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton to create new food items derived from New Jersey agricultural products for use in the National School Lunch Program. A $340,000 USDA Team Nutrition Grant of $340,000 will be used for training and school programs to improve schools’ nutritional environment and incorporate school gardens and farm to school initiatives. An $840,000 Federal Specialty Crop Block Grant will fund 10 projects, including Jersey Fresh, Jersey Grown and Jersey Seafood advertising. Other projects include education, marketing and promotion of agricultural products.
This school year, we almost doubled the number of schools participating in the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program from 56 to 101 schools. Those schools are sharing $2.5 million in funding to give students regular access to fresh produce, with an emphasis on purchasing from New Jersey farmers during the growing season. And we awarded USDA Food Service Equipment Grants to more than 100 schools to purchase, renovate or replace kitchen equipment used to prepare school meals. We’ve expanded our Jersey Grown brand to include firewood and black oil sunflower seeds for birdseed.
We’ve partnered with the State Division of Travel and Tourism to promote on-farm visits. Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno joined us at a Choose and Cut Christmas Tree Farm in December and the Division Director Grace Hanlon walked through a Rutgers Football-themed corn maze with me in October. And, we’re encouraging processors to use Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables in their products by giving them the ability to put “Made with Jersey Fresh” on their labels.
The locally grown trend has really caught on and demand increases every year, so we anticipate more opportunities and partnerships on the horizon. An idea recently launched would establish a statewide mobile farmer’s market and fresh produce voucher program to bring our farmers’ fruits and vegetables to places where local produce is not readily available.
Food Safety has always been a top priority for our growers, but there are some concerns about the impact of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama in January. Under the provisions of the law, companies will be required to develop and implement written food safety plans, the FDA will have the authority to better respond and require recalls when food safety problems occur. However, because of the nature of farming in our densely populated state, our farmers could have a tougher time meeting the requirements of the law than larger, corporate farms in California and Florida. We need the FDA to write the rules implementing the Act with some level of additional financial support to the state’s smaller farmers.
Nutrition continues to be one of our priorities. The New Jersey Department enacted school nutrition standards a few years ago that cut sugar and fat and incorporated less fried foods and more whole grains. The USDA recently set forth a proposal to school meal requirements which call for more fruits and vegetables, requires specific types of vegetables, and limits starchy vegetables, increases use of whole grains, limits milk to low or nonfat, bans trans fats, limits calories and reduces sodium. At the same time, changes included in the child nutrition authorization (Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act) are beginning to be implemented by the USDA. The Act, signed into law by President Obama in December, increases the number of students eligible to enroll in school meal programs and improves the quality and nutrition levels of the food served.
Finally, there will be no agriculture in New Jersey if we don’t train the next generation and give them the high-tech skills necessary to compete in this ever-changing marketplace. This year, we launched the new Curriculum in Agricultural Education program or “CASE,” that delivers rigorous courses in agricultural education in eight NJ schools. The purpose of CASE is to introduce more students to agriculture and prepare greater numbers of students for post-secondary education and better prepare students for college through intensive science, math and language arts-based classes. We currently have 3,000 students enrolled in ag education courses in 40 programs throughout the state. We’re also working with Rutgers University and other colleges in NJ to attract those high school students to their agriculture programs. So, we are looking to a very bright future for agriculture in New Jersey and hope that our efforts today will pay off for tomorrow.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.