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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Chappell: I didn't believe that.
Vitek: No, and the fertilizer is made with
compost, compost that has been made by composting
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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