Home > News > Press Releases
National Outstanding Young Farmer Award
Goes to Middlesex County Grower
For Immediate Release: February 23, 2001 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic


Robert C. Von Thun, Jr., a fourth-generation vegetable/small fruit/flower farmer from Monmouth Junction, Middlesex County, and his wife Cindy were chosen as one of the four recipients of the National Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) Award at the 45th Annual Outstanding Young Farmers Award Congress held recently in Omaha, Nebraska. The three other National Award recipients all represented the dairy industry and hailed from Maryland, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Von Thun is the third Garden State farmer chosen to receive the national award since the program began in 1955. The other two national winners from New Jersey were Abbott Lee of Chatsworth in 1985 and Jim Giamarese of East Brunswick in 1989. This year's event brought 25 contestants from across the nation to Omaha to compete for the coveted National Award. Each contestant was judged on agricultural progress (50%), soil and water conservation practices (25%) and service to the community, state and nation (25%). The Von Thun family began farming in 1913 on 90 acres, selling their grain and potatoes through wholesale markets. In 1986, Robert Von Thun formed a partnership with his father and added 55 acres of soybeans and 35 acres of vegetables to the farm's production. The vegetables were sold at the farm's small retail market. In order to expand his customer base and gain additional marketing exposure, Von Thun branched out into "entertainment" farming, holding various festivals throughout the year and gearing the activities toward children. Since 1990, Von Thun has held agricultural education sessions each year and as many as 10,000 children from pre-school through second grade visit the farm. The children learn about agriculture, the food system and natural resource management during their visits. Von Thun's emphasis on marketing has led him to double the size of his retail market and add a petting zoo for children along with pick-your-own opportunities, hayrides and festivals. He attends six urban tailgate farm markets during the season and also sells his products directly to independent supermarkets. The farm's web site (www.vonthunfarms.com) tells customers the history of the farm and advises them of the schedules for tailgate markets, seasonal activities, festivals and special events. Record keeping is critical to Von Thun's farm management and development. Marketing records include advertising strategies and yearly festival comparisons of income, profits and attendance at each event. As a result of his attention to these details, attendance at his fall festival rose from 1,500 in 1994 to over 6,000 in 1999. The expansion of his greenhouse production to 25,000 square feet and its profitability also relies on good record keeping. Conservation of natural resources and sustainable agriculture is of the utmost importance to Von Thun. Manure generated by the farm's livestock is used to fertilize the soil, which are some of the most productive in New Jersey. Management practices such as grass waterways, side dressing of fertilizers and installation of drywells in the greenhouses to recapture and manage water have been implemented along with trickle irrigation which has reduced water consumption by as much as 80 percent and reduced fertilizer costs by 20 percent. Through a combination of education and public outreach, Von Thun has been able to help create an informed public that supports our diverse agriculture industry. Von Thun serves as a positive role model for youth by following the FFA motto - "learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, living to serve." Community service is an important aspect of Von Thun's life. He supports his church, local youth organizations, schools, and other community businesses. He has been active in numerous organizations, including the Middlesex County Board of Agriculture, the Vegetable Growers' Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the 4-H Leaders Association, local school PTO, and FFA. Von Thun has received the Honorary FFA Degree; Friend of FFA Award; General Assembly Resolution plaque for community service and agricultural industry involvement; the Middlesex County Friend of 4-H Award from the Bethany Baptist Church. Von Thun's wife Cindy shares in all aspects of work on the farm and in the community. An agriculture education teacher, last year she received the FFA Advisor of the Year Award. Their three children, Timmy, 8; Kristie, 5; and Kellie Ann, 2; are the fifth Von Thun generation to grow up on the farm. During the event, Karen Kritz, New Jersey's OYF Program Manager, received the organization's award for top Program Manager. The award recognized Kritz's efforts to improve New Jersey's OYF program. This is the second time Kritz received the award since she took over the program in 1998. The National OYF Awards Congress is administered by the US Junior Chamber of Commerce, sponsored by John Deere and Company and supported by the Outstanding Farmers of America and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. The purpose of the OYF program is to pay tribute to young farmers who have made progress and contributions in the area of agriculture. For more information on the OYF program, contact Karen Kritz, state OYF Program Manager, at (609) 984-2506 or email agukrit@ag.state.nj.us.

Robert Von Thun
Karen Kritz, New Jersey's Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) Program
Coordinator, (left) congratulates Bob and Cindy Von Thun on their
selection as one of the four recipients of the National OYF Award at the
45th Annual OYF Congress held recently in Omaha, Nebraska. Kritz was
also recognized for her work on the Garden State's OYF program.