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Rutgers horticulture

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Rutgers horticulture professor and New Jersey Center for Sustainable Agriculture

co-founder Mike Vitek joins Bill Chappell on "The

Podcast" today to share his perspective on

sustainable agriculture, climate change and

potential solutions.

Chappell: The name Mike Vitek is synonymous with

American agriculture, he is Rutgers University's

horticulture professor and co-founder of the

New Jersey Center for Sustainable Agriculture

and the World Food Prize.

He joins us today to talk about sustainable

agriculture, the Center for Sustainable

Agriculture, and what you think can and should

be done to get America's farms and food

systems back to the top of the list.

Welcome to the show Mike.

Vitek: Thank you Bill.

Chappell: First of all, how important is

sustainable agriculture to New Jersey's

agricultural industry?

Vitek: That's a good question and it goes back

to a time that we were the leading producer

of dairy products in the U.S., but a lot of

things have happened.

Agriculture isn't what it was in the past.

It's been transformed.

We started in the last 20 years becoming

more and more dependent on imports, and

now we import about half of our food.

If we don't make changes, we won't have food

production.

Agriculture needs to be sustainable.

It is not sustainable if you rely on imports

for your food.

Chappell: Why is that?

Vitek: We produce everything we need right

here in the U.S., and all these years it's

worked well.

It's now time for us to step up and produce

more of our own food.

We can do that if we have a sustainable agriculture.

Chappell: What do you mean by "sustainable

agriculture"?

Vitek: I don't have a specific definition,

but I know that we have to have a lot of

crops, a lot of different crops.

You need a lot of soil to farm.

We are trying to restore our soil, and

the only way you can have good soil is

with a sustainable agriculture.

You can't use synthetic fertilizers, you

have to be organic.

We use a lot of greenhouses to produce,

but greenhouses can't be made out of concrete.

You have to use a material like metal.

You can't be a plastic bag farmer.

Everything has to have a life span.

We need a lot of water, and most importantly

we need sustainable farmers.

Chappell: Tell us a little bit more about

the farm.

Vitek: We have about 12,000 acres of farmland.

There's about 6,000 acres of crops on the

farm, and the other 6,000 is in the greenhouse.

It produces about 5,000 pounds of food a

day.

There's a lot of diversity.

We grow some of our food in-season.

For example, we have a lot of tomatoes.

We are organic, but not all organic.

The majority of the pesticides that we use

are natural, but it does take a little bit

of science to know what is the right amount

to use.

We grow things like organic tomatoes, organic

peppers, organic lettuce, organic cucumbers,

we grow a lot of organic fruits, we're trying

to grow all organic herbs.

We have also started to grow certified organically

produced eggs.

Chappell: This reminds me of what someone

once told me,

"I eat eggs that came out of my yard. They're

fertilized by urine and bat shit."

Vitek: (laughs)

Chappell: I didn't believe that.

Vitek: No, and the fertilizer is made with

compost, compost that has been made by composting

livestock manure.

It's not pee and bat shit.

We also have a program with an environmental

non-profit called Green Planet.

It's a nonprofit that teaches people in need

to grow their own food.

Chappell: Can you give us an example of someone

from Green Planet?

Vitek: This is one of our students.

This is where we started two years ago.

One year after we started, the student is

on the show.

He's growing vegetables, greens, fruits,

tomatoes, you name it.

We also help them plant their seeds.

It's not just for him, it's for everyone.

He's been teaching his neighbors and all

his friends.

Chappell: If you're a member of the community,

you're part of the solution.

How did the egg business get started?

Vitek: Well, with the farm program, we try

to make them more aware and more aware

of how to grow and care for their food.

This is one of our students who also happens

to be a farmer.

He also teaches workshops for schools to teach

about farm products.

Chappell: A teacher is an amazing thing

because they can teach many people who

have never met.

Vitek: Yes.

I remember when I started and I didn't have

a job, I had no money, no family.

I just started and I had my hands up in

the air every day and I said, "I'm willing

to learn."

Somehow, I ended up with this job.

This is one of my workers.

This is a new class, and I'm a veteran.

It's a good feeling to help people who are

less fortunate.

Chappell: You don't just sit back and say,

"Okay, I'm going to save this world and

it's going to be done because I'm going to

do it."

Vitek: It just comes naturally.

It's one of the beautiful things about

being in a garden.

You talk to the plants and they answer you

back, like you talk to a friend.

Chappell: Yes, and what's amazing is you

can get a different answer every time.

Vitek: Yes.

That's one of the great things about being

in the soil.

There are multiple stories.

My mother was a child and when we were planting

tomatoes in the garden, she picked a few

cherry tomatoes, plucked them off and it

happened that the tomato seed was inside

and when she put it in the ground, it grew

into a large tomato.

So this is an example of something that comes

out of the soil, but not everything in the

soil has something beautiful in it.

We have a lot of insects in the soil.

One of the beauties of being in the garden

is you can actually see these insects and

see their beauty.

If you look at a flower and you think it's

just a beautiful object or you look at a

vegetable and you think it's just a beautiful

object, but if you really look at the things

in the soil, they are beautiful and the beauty

of the soil is something we don't appreciate

at all.

You can see beautiful flowers in a lot of

places that we'd call a wasteland.

I think what attracts us to the land is the

fact that we have to work hard to cultivate


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