"That was my start in business," he told students on Aug. 18 when he came to Bayonne to look over the farm stand set up in front of City Hall. "I picked it and then I sold it. While you students didn't have to pick it, this certainly is a lesson in business. While we, in promoting this program, have told people how much this helps farmers, we forgot to mention how much this helps you learn about business."
Kuperus had come to celebrate the success of the Bayonne partnership with Rutgers University and the state that allowed students to work the summer selling vegetables and fruits grown by New Jersey farmers.
The Youth Farm Stand program began on July 12 and concluded its weekly schedule on Aug. 18 with Kuperus' visit, who called the Bayonne Youth Farm Stand the most successful in the state. The farm stand project begins again Aug. 26 at City Hall, Friday afternoons only. It will continue to operate Fridays through Oct. 18.
The 11 Bayonne High School students participating in the project set up a stand selling locally grown fruits and vegetables every Tuesday and Wednesday in front of Bayonne City Hall, with satellite locations near senior citizen housing around the city.
"These teenagers are accomplishing more than simply selling produce - they are learning about agriculture and gaining business skills, they are supporting local farmers, and they are giving city residents access to delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables," Kuperus said.
This was a cooperative effort by the Bayonne Board of Education, Bayonne Faith Based Center, Provident Bank, and the Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension Youth Farm Stand program - which was designed to support local farmers, increase workforce readiness and life skills in at-risk youth, as well as to build healthier and stronger communities. Rutgers supplied training to operate the stands. The workers were a mix of regular and special education students, from grades 10 through 12. Two Bayonne teachers, Chris Wolfer and Joe Collins, and Henry Harris Vice Principal Tom Fogu oversaw the operations.
Antonio Nardini, one of the school district's DARE officers who wrote the original grant kicking off the program in Bayonne about four years ago, said, "This is a big boost for the kids to have someone like this come in and tell them what a good job they are doing. This has to be the best stand in the state, and not only does it help these kids to learn, but the program also helped senior citizens who didn't have to come out in this summer's heat to get their vegetables, we went to them."
The students paid weekly visits to five senior citizen complexes so that seniors did not have to leave their buildings.
The proof of the stand's success was in its sales numbers. After the third week of operations, the Bayonne students had surpassed profits for all of 2003, the last year they had participated in the project.
As of Aug. 16, the students had collected 313 Women, Infants and Children's vouchers and 626 vouchers from the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, the former of which makes available locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breast feeding or postpartum women, and children two to five years old, and the latter for eligible seniors age 60 and older. The vouchers from these two programs totaled about $4,700. The students also sold 490 bulk items - crates, cases or bushels of fruits and vegetables.
Farm stand worker Pedro Alberto, who presented the secretary of agriculture with a poem written for the occasion by Linda Gustavo, a secretary at Henry Harris School, said this was his first year working the stand, and that he had learned a lot.
An upcoming junior at Bayonne High School, Alberto hopes to pursue a career in law, and believes that this opportunity gives him experience in public speaking as well as allows him to become acclimated to the work environment.
"This is my first job," he said.
During his duties here, he has purchased some of the produce himself, saying that corn was his favorite vegetable and watermelon his favorite fruit.
State Senator and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria said, "We're happy to have Secretary Kuperus visit our successful youth farm stand project, which has been an excellent learning experience for the students as well as a benefit to our citizens, specially the seniors." He added, "Our residents love the Jersey Fresh products they are able to purchase at the conveniently located stands."
Edie Horn, one of the Bayonne shoppers at the stand, said she usually had to go into Manhattan to get her fruits and vegetables.
"It seemed odd that I was living in the Garden State and had to go to Manhattan," she said. Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan thanks the city, the state, Rutgers, the police department and Provident Bank for their participation in the program.
"This has been a great collaboration," she said.