South Jersey residents are the state’s biggest proponents of buying locally grown Jersey Fresh produce, according to a recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind research center.

The poll, co-sponsored by the New Jersey Farm Bureau, found that 79 percent of respondents in the state’s southern half think buying fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers is very important, while 84 percent have done so in the past three months. Statewide 69 percent said buying local produce is very important, while 87 percent have done so.

Statewide, 90 percent of respondents said they would like to see more Jersey Fresh foods in schools, even if they cost more. Nearly 70 percent said they support allowing farmers to hunt Canada geese to reduce crop damage, while residents are nearly split on converting farmland to large renewable energy projects like wind turbines or solar arrays.

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This is the seventh year that the bureau has worked with the university to complete the poll based on phone interviews conducted in October. Pete Furey, executive director of the bureau, said the data has shown that residents have continued to support local farmers.

The questions about local produce in schools, Canada geese and renewable energy were hot topics this year, he said, and so those related questions were added to the recent survey to gauge statewide perception.

“We had a particularly bad problem with Canada geese, which ravaged hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland throughout the state,” Furey said, adding that his group would be forwarding the survey results to federal regulators that protect the birds.

Support for projects to put renewable energy facilities onto farmland, which have been proposed in Cumberland and Salem counties, was mixed. Statewide, 43 percent of respondents said they would encourage such projects, while 39 percent said they would not encourage them. The rest, 18 percent, said they weren’t sure.

The poll also found that 86 percent of residents believe farming is an environmentally friendly use of the land and that 91 percent of respondents had a lot or some confidence in the safety of Jersey Fresh foods.

However, 44 percent of residents statewide believe the country is on the wrong track with the way it produces food. More than half, 55 percent, believe New Jersey is on the right track, a number that was as high as 66 percent in the state’s six southernmost counties.

Furey attributed that skepticism to bad agricultural news from elsewhere in the country, calling buying food at farm markets from local growers “the way of the future.”

In October, the state was awarded nearly $800,000 in federal grants to support local farming initiatives, such as marketing campaigns to benefit the local wine, blueberry, peach and Christmas tree industries as well as the boards of agriculture in Atlantic and Cumberland counties.

Another indication of growing preferences for locally grown products has been a dramatic increase in the number of farm stands throughout the state, which has increased from a few dozen to nearly 150 this year, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Lynne Richmond, spokeswoman for the NJDA, said locally grown foods have been increasingly added to menus in restaurants, casinos, schools and hospitals statewide, while supermarkets have been featuring Jersey Fresh produce in their aisles.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in trying to go local,” she said.

This past weekend, Bellview Winery in Buena Borough hosted its first Locavore Weekend, featuring its own locally made wines as well as products from a variety of local farms.

Owner Jim Quarella estimated that 300 people came, many who were not even familiar with the term “locavore,” a word first added to the Oxford American Dictionary in 2007 referring to people who prefer to eat food produced locally.

“The better the community does, the better everyone does,” Quarella said.

The recent poll was conducted by telephone from Oct. 17 through 23 using a randomly selected sample of 623 registered voters statewide who were 18 years old and older. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Contact Lee Procida:


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