New Jersey is known for many things like its industrialized areas, great beaches, and rural areas. Like other states, New Jersey has a slogan. In this case, the state is called the Garden State. Learn why New Jersey is called the Garden State and find out where the nickname originated and whether or not it is still applicable to the area today!
Why Is New Jersey Called the Garden State?
New Jersey is called the Garden State because the economy of New Jersey was once mostly based on agriculture. In the late 18th and through much of the 19th century, New Jersey was rife with farmland.
However, the overuse of the region’s soil led to poorer crop yields and helped push New Jersey into the Industrial Revolution. Many cities in the northeastern part of the state (like Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Newark) became industrial centers in the changing economy of the middle and late 19th century.
Agricultural production during this time changed but did not cease. Farmers utilized technology such as canning processes and railroad travel through the early and mid-18th century to grow food for nearby urban areas. Specifically, New Jersey supplied huge amounts of fruit and vegetables to New York City and Philadelphia.
Today, a person may drive along the length of the New Jersey Turnpike and see ongoing industrialization in most of the northeastern and central parts of the state. However, many farms still produce fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the state. The Garden State slogan may seem inaccurate, but there is a large kernel of truth in it.
Does New Jersey Still Have Gardens and Farmland?
Yes, New Jersey still has a great deal of farmland and home gardens throughout the state. The state’s nickname or slogan is more accurate than people may believe. Roughly 720,000 acres or 1,125 square miles of the state is farmland.
Given that New Jersey is only 7,354 square miles of land, about 15% of the state is used for agriculture. That may be a small amount compared to the two-thirds of the state that was once farmland. However, New Jersey has struck a good balance of industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and more.
In that sense, New Jersey certainly lives up to its nickname. These farms have economic significance as well. The total agricultural production in New Jersey reached a value of over $1 billion in 2017. The state is a leading producer of peaches, tomatoes, eggplant, cranberries, and more. Vineyards are rapidly growing within the state as well!
Most of the farmland is found in the southern and northwestern counties of New Jersey. As a result, aside from residents and people that get lost while driving to New York City or New Jersey’s best beaches, the farmlands may as well be invisible. In particular, the counties with the greatest amount of farmland are:
- Salem County
- Burlington County
- Warren County
- Hunterdon County
- Gloucester County
Salem County alone has a little over 25% of the state’s farmland and almost 1,000 individual farms!
Possible Origins for Why New Jersey Is Called the Garden State
The origins of the slogan ‘The Garden State’ are believed to trace back to Abraham Browning in 1876. According to a book by Alfred Heston in 1926, Abraham Browning likened New Jersey to a giant barrel from which Pennsylvania and New York can source their food, calling New Jersey a garden state.
However, some historians dispute that claim and say that the comparison of New Jersey to a twice-tapped barrel was originally uttered by Ben Franklin. While Franklin may have compared New Jersey to an opened barrel or keg, little evidence connects him to the Garden State moniker.
Even though Heston credited Abraham Browning with calling New Jersey the Garden State, several decades would pass before it became the official nickname of the state.
The Fight Over New Jersey’s Slogan
New Jersey officially adopted the nickname “The Garden State” in 1954 following the passage of a bill to include the slogan on license plates. In the true spirit of New Jersey political contrarianism, though, Governor Robert Meyner took issue with the slogan and vetoed the bill.
To be fair, he performed due diligence and found that the slogan was not an official nickname for the state in the past. He argued that the citizens of the state may not identify with that particular slogan at a time when most of the state’s industries were dedicated to basically anything other than farming at that point.
Still, the state legislature overrode the veto. To this day, the slogan is prominently displayed on New Jersey license plates. The slogan confounds travelers and makes people from urban areas chuckle as they sit in miles of traffic surrounded by oil refineries.
New Jersey’s Other Symbolism
Aside from being named the Garden State, New Jersey has an abundance of other symbolism attached to it. For example, New Jersey has several state animals that have some significance to the state.
- State Fish (Freshwater): Brook Trout
- State Fish (Saltwater): Striped Bass
- State Dinosaur: Hadrosaurus foulkii
- State Dog: Seeing Eye Dogs®
- State Animal: Horse
These are just a handful of the animals that represent the state. Each of them is important for one reason or another, such as the discovery of the Hadrosaurus foulkii. John Estaugh Hopkins found this dinosaur in Haddonfield, New Jersey in 1838. The dinosaur remains became the first mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world!
New Jersey is a multifaceted state. Given its agrarian economy in the past, it makes sense why New Jersey is called the Garden State. Although only 15% of the state is farmland these days, agriculture still generates a huge amount of money for the state’s economy. Of course, there is much more to New Jersey than its farmland. The state has famous rivers, a rich history dating back hundreds of years, and its famous Pine Barrens. New Jersey may be maligned by some, but it still has a lot to offer residents and visitors.
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