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 Small birdseeds making giant strides in New Jersey’s environmental conservation

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By Jennifer Vazquez / Reporter

(Nov. 18, 2010) — It may sound unbelievable that by purchasing a specific type of birdseed New Jersey’s environment could grow greener, but that’s exactly what experts are saying is true.

Consumers can now purchase sunflower birdseeds, thanks to a program run by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The bird food will not only serve as a scrumptious meal, but also benefit the Garden State’s agricultural community and environment.

In an interview with The Leader, New Jersey Audubon’s Director of Conservation and Stewardship Troy Ettel explained how the seed was planted for this birdseed initiative.

“It started three years ago when we got together with a group of three New Jersey farmers,” Ettel said. “We were interested in establishing more habitat … in an area where they were farming, and they were interested in continuing to farm. We started talking with one another about ways we can collaborate, and, I think, we all kind of mutually got the idea that we might be more successful working together than independently. One of them actually had a feed mill, so the idea of birdseeds came up.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture even provided the group with a startup grant, according to Ettel. Now, there are nine farms in four different counties — Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset — involved in the program.

Ettel went on to explain that though this initiative holds positive attributes for the environment, it also helps the farmers who grow and harvest the sunflowers, which are then turned into the birdseed product.

“The majority of the birdseeds that is grown in the United States come from North or South Dakota and they would be shipped and trucked all the way to New Jersey to be sold here,” Ettel said. “We wanted to work with local producers, pay them a premium to grow the seeds and then also give them a connection to a local market where they can sell their products. So rather than trucking them in, we are creating this network of producers here in New Jersey. … So that is definitely one of the things that makes it greener — that it is locally produced so the carbon footprint is much smaller.”

He continued, “The other thing that makes it really green is that revenue from the sale of the seed goes directly back into habitat management and creation. For every five acres we are planting in sunflowers for this project, we are actually maintaining one acre of grassland habitat.”

The birdseeds are not only cultivated in various places within the State of New Jersey, but they are distributed to different locations, as well.

“You can find a list of all the locations on (the New Jersey Audubon) Web site,” Ettel said. “We are also selling them at participating retailers, including one in Paramus, which is Greenland Landscape Company.”

Farmers start on the project in late April or early May when they plant the seeds. The sunflowers start blooming around mid-July. In mid-September they start to dry and harvesting occurs from September until mid-October. This calendar correlates to the demands of birdseeds.

“Your peak demand for birdseeds, for people feeding birds, starts Oct. 1 because that is when the birds’ migration starts,” Ettel said. “We are really aiming to get that seed on the shelf by Oct. 1 every year, and then of course periodically through the winter season.”

The birdseeds used for this project are black oiled sunflower seeds, which according to Ettel, are the most popular type of seeds that birds eat. “You’ll attract more species using black oiled sunflower seeds than any other seeds around,” he said.

The New Jersey Audubon Society was founded in 1897 and is a privately supported, nonprofit, statewide membership organization. New Jersey Audubon’s primary missions involve fostering environmental awareness and a conservation by protecting “New Jersey’s birds, mammals, other animals, and plants, especially endangered and threatened species; and promotes preservation of New Jersey’s valuable natural habitats.”



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