Twilight Fruit Meetings

by Gary Mount

On Thursday, May 15, the day after my 53rd birthday, Pam and I hosted a Twilight Fruit Meeting at Terhune Orchards. Twilight Meetings have long been an integral part of Rutgers University’s Agricultural Extension Service and New Jersey’s agricultural heritage.

Although many Americans know that the USA is a world leader in producing and exporting agricultural products, few know of the influence of Agricultural Extension and State Experiment Stations on our incredible agricultural productivity. It started with the federal Hatch Act in the 1940s, which mandated that every state designate a “land grant” agricultural college and agricultural experiment station. Their mission was to provide technical information and research results to farmers.

Since there are fewer farm chores in the winter than during the summer, we have more time to attend conferences on agricultural production, marketing, and finance. Although the need for technical information does not diminish during the summer, the hectic growing season means that farmers have less time to meet. This situation fostered the concept of “Twilight Meetings” – usually held in the early evening at different growers’ farms around the state. At these meetings, extension specialists present timely information on growing conditions and disease or insect problems.

Prior to the May 15 meeting, I asked retired Extension Fruit Specialist Ernest Christ of Hightstown, NJ, about his “twilight” experiences. During his years at Rutgers, Ernie participated in Twilight Fruit meetings in Bergen, Monmouth, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington, Gloucester and Atlantic counties – as many as 35 to 40 each year! Over the years, I was one of the many farmers to see, hear, and learn from Ernie at these meetings. His predecessor, Professor Farley, attended some Twilight Meetings by taking the train from New Brunswick to Flemington and being driven from the station to the host farm in a Model T Ford car! (That, of course, was before my time.)

The Twilight Meeting at Terhune Orchards featured specialists in fruit growing, disease, insect and weed control, and pesticide handling. Those attending toured our newest peach, dwarf apples, blueberry, and raspberry plantings. We demonstrated our system of nets used to protect our blueberries from the birds and our new Vicon fertilizer spreader, which spreads fertilizer exactly where it’s needed in the row and skips the walkways where it’s not. We showed off our latest and greatest deer fence and our new agricultural-chemical handling facility where we store all pesticides used on Terhune’s 225 acres and fill the sprayers.

The farmers stopped work early to attend and they stayed late to enjoy the magnificent weather and the camaraderie while sipping cider and eating donuts. All in all, a “fruitful” and productive Twilight Meeting.