Organic Farming

Back to the Garden

Story and photos by Mary Jasch

Garden State organic farmers harvest fruit from the fertile valleys and hills of the Skylands. They care about the wholesomeness of the food they grow. They go for the unusual, the taste, the heritage, the quality. They find fun in variety and appearance, and feel safe knowing that what they eat and sell for others to eat is not genetically manipulated. Because they don't rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to protect their plants, they rely on the land and treat it with respect. Some sell at market, others sell from a stand. Some share their bounty­along with the risk of poor years­with farm co-op members. Here is a handful of farmers, each planting to a different drum. Skylands visitors and residents can enjoy them all.



Since 1987, Upper Meadows Farm has been devoted to sustainable holistic agriculture. Joining the Certified Organic community in 1991, the farm has maintained certification by NOFA-NJ ever since and has grown from 4 1/2 acres to the current 153 acres, all certified organic. The farm has raised pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cattle, for meat, fur, fiber, eggs, and milk. Vegetable production has expanded from the traditional "kitchen garden," which remains as one of the fields, to approximately 10 acres today, that serves their CSA as well as other markets. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms are small, independent growers who, by establishing a guaranteed market through prepaid annual sales, can focus on quality produce. CSA’s offer a healthy, local alternative to large-scale, industrialized agriculture. Upper Meadows practices organic agriculture, avoiding pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. Shares are competitively priced by lowering the cost of distribution.

We are gradually expanding our fruit capabilities and planted 37 fruit trees in 2003. Berries are also plentiful including blueberries, which we last had available in 1994 and a raspberry patch. New grape varieties are planned to augment the concord vines. And an additional 1/4 acre is devoted to perennial flower production.

"We make hay when the sun shines" says owner Len Pollara, "and rotate our grain crops, which have been oats, wheat, rye, spelt, flax, buckwheat, and corn. All our livestock products are pasture based and we are always working to improve and expand our pasture. We anticipate being able to offer fresh pork again in 2006. We have several very busy beehives and have raw honey available year round while supplies last. We also have maple syrup courtesy of our trees with a measure of hard work added for flavor." 973-293-8171.


Jean Boggia sells produce to epicures and other food fanciers. For three years now, she's been harvesting home-grown organic lettuces and other delights from her private garden-gone-workhorse at her home in Lebanon. Her Kitchen Garden and Rock Farm was first considered as a means of support for retirement, but retirement got further away. "I though I'd better start now." She turned a rocky one-quarter acre plot with a 50-foot buffer zone in all directions.

Boggia says it's in her blood to farm and do things with food. Her grandfather was a successful market gardener. "It just made sense not to use a lot of chemicals. It also tastes better. If I want to sell it to the public, I want to be able to prove to people it is organic." And prove she does. Boggia passed all the tests for certification as an organic farm with Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA), but it wasn't easy. First she contacted them for guidelines and at the end of her first year, filled out an extensive application, including affidavits from neighbors, and paid a fee. They sent an inspector who checked seed orders, receipts for soil amendments, storage facilities, the garden, and searched for chemicals. Then, a committee met to decide if she was organic or transitional organic. "I never used anything in the yard, so I was able to be certified right away."

In her second year, she submitted a conservation plan, guided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), with her next application. And every three years, she tests her water for nitrates and e-coli, and tests soil for fertility and health. General inspections, which includes checking to see that sales jibe with seed purchases, occur yearly with each application. To make things more interesting, certification is ultimately federal which dictates that compost be documented with information on ingredients, temperatures and frequency of turning. And she must use certified organic seed if it exists for what she wants to plant.

But this doesn't daunt Ms. Boggia, who plants mostly heirloom tomatoes by the dozen in raised beds, along with seven varieties of potatoes -- one that's purple all the way through -- green and yellow beans with purple stripes, French and Egyptian zucchini, fancy greens and five kinds of melons in addition to her more usual goodies.

"I don't always love the hard work with sweat dripping off my nose and bugs in my ears. I love it when I'm harvesting the good stuff." Food lovers can find Boggia's "not cheap veggies" at the Madison Farmer's Market (Madison High School on Ridgedale Avenue, 973-377-1818) in July and August.


Some farmers don't like the new federal rules. They choose to not be certified by NOFA, but continue to grow food organically the old-fashioned way ­ without chemicals. One is Rich Sisti of Catalpa Ridge Farm, Wantage. Sisti hesitates to call himself an organic grower because, he says, the government owns the word organic now. "In order to be organic, it's a governmental thing. It's a little complicated." Sisti did not reapply for NOFA certification because the new regulations put into action last year require that he use certified organic seed. Although he uses it most of the time, he grows some hybrids and plants seed of unknown origin that members bring from trips to Europe, like bi-color escarole and striped lettuce. "I grow everything old-style organic. I don't use chemicals and I haven't sprayed anything in years."

He underplants garlic and onions with red mustard and Italian arugula and thinks it might be a good way to rotate crops. The garlic comes out in July, so he'll plant oriental greens and carrots to plume above them. They're sweetest in the fall anyway. He grows 30 varieties of garlic and 46 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, including "Red Peach," a medium-sized fuzzy-skinned tomato. "I like to say it looks like the morning dew on it."

His 15-acre farm is a strange operation. "A little patch here and there, fences, a lot of things going on." Sisti grew up in Paterson and took a "Future Farmers" agriculture course in high school. "I had a pig." Now he has fava beans, artichokes, heirloom squash, Belgian white carrots, Austrian lettuce speckled like a trout... He's looking for spinach from Formosa and Japan to do better for him in the spring.

"I'm allowed to do anything weird in the world. With a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), I deliver and they take," he says of his members in Hoboken and the Vernon Valley. "I do oriental greens, red turnips, black tomatoes." He even delivers lamb's quarters, purslane and pig weed to his devoted clientele who love it. Gastronomes can find Rich Sisti's fancy food at the Sussex County Farmer's Market in Olde Lafayette Village, Lafayette, and on occasion at events. In August, he'll share his wares throughout the state ­ at Ramsay Day, the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show, The State Fair, and Hoboken Day.

Sisti tips: Plant spinach in the fall for a good crop. Eat those chive flowers. So, does he like it? "Sometimes I'm happy. I fell on my head when I was a baby. It's a challenge."

Karen Anderson, executive director of NOFA, says that the organization supports farmers like Sisti who is still a member. She says NOFA works in a continuum of sustainable practices that includes organic grass-based agriculture ­ pasture-raised poultry, beef and dairy and biodynamic farms. "We're on the green side of the spectrum."

"There's no turning back from the new regulations. We'll serve an important function in situations where there are processed food products from the south or abroad." Anderson says that thanks to farm markets, farmers here have the luxury of being face to face and being able to explain to people how they grow their produce. "Farmers with a face" she calls it. In many places, consumers don't get to meet farmers and must rely on labels.

"We're the granddaddy of all eco-labels. The most developed and highly defined and widely recognized labeling, it will always be a really important part of what we do." Label requirements are a guarantee that minimum standards have been followed. NOFA's membership represents the breadth of the food system ­ consumers, chefs, farmers, home gardeners. It's an opportunity to support sustainability in agriculture. People who buy organic use their food dollars as a vote for organic agriculture.


The sawed-off limbs of oaks are piled and crossed four feet tall -- apartment buildings for shitake mushrooms at Oak Shade Farm in Denville. In the creases where the logs join in moisture and shade, the fungi proliferates. Alex Adams, shitake proprietor, cuts select red and white boles 42 inches long with a six-inch diameter for their straight grain and density. It's all for the mycelium ­ those reaching, branching, grabbing fungus roots. He says they find life easier to run with the grain, so colonization is more successful. Plus, with all those tight oak cells, mycelium can take its toll on the wood for a long time.

He likes his logs fresh cut. That way, he colonizes them with the kind of fungus he wants, namely shitake, instead of some weedy one moving in first. "You want your favorite stuff to colonize your logs." The shitake log condos stand in the shade on the edge of the woods in Adams's backyard. He keeps them till they're punky ­ usually a year of production for every inch in diameter -- then tosses them out to rot with other old vegetation. Adams has brought them back though, when he found them still fruiting after all these years.

But first he drills holes in a fresh log. He digs in a clear plastic bag filled with what looks like lumpy sawdust, white flour and mold. It's close. It's spawn, a mix of sawdust and oat bran, colonized by shitake mycelium. He packs the holes with spawn in a plunger, then covers it with a small piece of foam to keep moisture in ­ spawn mulch. He puts the log on a stack or in a sheltered place under the trees so the spawn will colonize it.

A prime shitake has white flesh peeking through cracks in its dark brown skin, denoting growth over a long time, turbulent times of sun and rain when they get tough, then crack from moisture. Adams is picky about his mushrooms. He likes the margins to be in-rolled a little. He says it shows the shroom didn't go to spore on the log, and it protects the gills from bruising. Size matters in shitake saleability. He even cuts off most of the stems so customers get the very best.


At Asbury's Natural Village Farm in Asbury, Warren County, Farmer Charles Napravnik drives his team of Belgians through the flower-covered fields where he's out working some steam off the horses before they all start mowing the tall grass. Napravnik manages the 12-year-old organic CSA much like the farmer before him except for using Tom and Ben, equines. He grows no favorites. "I like it all."

Seeming to relaxe in his sulky-like seat as the horses nudge and rub each other's faces, he says "They're friends in a world of people. " He likes using the horses and the mule Bunny to mow, plow, cultivate and plant some things like corn. "It's more fun for me." Today he cuts grass that he'll plow in for green manure as nearby, a volunteer digs weeds out of strawberry rows and the free-ranging red hens scurry, laying brown eggs so big they hardly fit the carton.

Napravnik got started in farming in the '60s during the back to the land movement. He learned from the Amish, then took the position as farmer on this 15-acre, NOFA-certified farm two years ago. "I love farming and I love the horses. I want to grow real food for real people. It's a good thing to do. It's good for the land. It's a feeling of accomplishment to see the stuff grow. It's a passion to farm. It's very fulfilling."

The CSA is accepting members to share the bounty and possibly work. Napravnik's own farm market, also NOFA-certified, will open in late June in front of the farm at 10 Asbury-Bloomsbury Rd., Asbury. Call 908-537-2846.


Walnut Grove Farm

This organic vegetable operation is run by Les and Debbie Guile in Augusta, just north of Newton.

Every one of the farm's ten acres has an important purpose. Walnut Grove derives its name from the one acre of walnut trees growing here when the Guiles purchased the land in 1981. They began a small garden a year later, and, by 1983, were selling produce to the public. Eventually, in 1993 and 1995, the Guiles gave up jobs as a printer and a teacher to pursue organic gardening full time. There are now three acres in vegetables, three acres in Christmas trees, and three acres utilized for wildlife habitat. The only "farm animals" are two friendly felines that have the run of the farm.

Organic farming employs many of the same principles of conventional agriculture while stressing soil sustainablility and stewardship of the land. This farm is re-certified annually by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA) at a cost of $300 to $500 per year paid by the farmer. Daily records must be kept of the farming procedure, including how much manure and fertilizer are used and crop rotations. No insecticides or fungicides are used on any of the fields. Walnut Grove has been an organic farm since 1983 and certified organic since 1991. Les and Debbie manage the farm on their own with seasonal help from volunteer friends and apprentices from Rutgers Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Program and NOFA.

The Guiles grow a variety of crops; between 50-60 different vegetables and flowers each year. Fresh garlic, an item hard to find elsewhere in the area, is a specialty. Also on the vegetable list are melons, tomatoes, peppers eggplant, sweet corn, beets, carrots, leafy greens including Swiss chard, arugula and kale, mustard greens, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli and many types of squash including winter squash and pumpkins. A drip irrigation system keeps the vegetables happy during the heat of summer. Walnut Grove is an all season farm offering cut-your-own Christmas trees in December including spruce, balsam fir and pines.

Walnut Grove is at the corner of Rt. 519 and Augusta Hill Rd. just north of Newton. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Sunday, 9am to 7pm, mid May to the end of October for vegetables and flowers. The farm reopens from the Saturday after Thanksgiving through December 20 for Christmas trees.


To find more organic farms, please contact Karen Anderson at 609-737-6848 or click on Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Comments

Barbara
02 Sep 2014, 20:37
Hi,
just trying to find information bout learning how to grow organic. Thinking about taking classes some courses. Thanks
wish me luck on my new adventure.

sincerely,
Barbara
Jay M Organic
09 Mar 2012, 18:09
Contact Jay M Organic (from the post below) at jaymorganic@yahoo.com\r\n\r\nBe well...eat right.\r\nJM
Jay M Organic
09 Mar 2012, 18:05
Are you seeking a source for daily/weekly fresh picked open pollinated/non-GMO produce grown completely free from ANY MAN-MADE chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides? I only use the traditional hand labor and pure organic practices used in my family since 1870 and taught to me by my grandfather 40 years ago. Inspired by my mother's successful battle against pancreatic cancer, 3 years ago, through a strict diet I provided from the farm (and without the typical chemo-Rad treatment) I am compelled to share the bounty with those who understand the true value. Specializing in anti-cancer, pro-cardiac and high health benefit vegetables and medicinal herbs.\r\nFYI: Did you know that more than 85% of corn and soy products sold in this country are Genetically Modified? Did you know that most roadside markets sell chemically treated (herbicides/pesticides) produce grown by local businesses and some even buy produce from large commercial growers only to re-sell it to you? I DO NOT.\r\nWe are all a part of nature and you are what you eat. Give your body the best in nutrition this season at the lowest prices anywhere in the northeast (NJ,PA,NY).\r\nRestaurants, Markets, or Individuals are all welcome. I farm for the love of it and to feed my family, I am committed to growing whole NATURAL food that your body will thank you for. Feel free to contact me with any inquiries. Eat well and good health to all.\r\nJM\r\n
Donna
13 Feb 2012, 14:43
I am looking for a certified organic fertilizer for my lawn. Do you know where I may purchase it?
Barbara Briemer
22 Sep 2011, 19:46
Hi -- \r\nWe're in Westifield, NJ and looking for a farm I can travel to in order to pick up organice VEGETABLES, FRUIT -- VEGAN\r\nnot interested in any animal products.\r\nWould be willing to travel an hour and a bit more.\r\n\r\nOr are there organic vegetable farms which may be delivering food to a location close to me?\r\n\r\nThank you --
Michael Fallon
12 Sep 2011, 09:32
Does anyone know someone that purchases bakery food waste for pig & hog farms\r\nI have 20-30 tons monthly.\r\nSincerely,\r\nNate.
Jane Slater
12 Sep 2011, 09:11
Where can I get organic apples? My google inquiry just turns up info about organic farming in general.
teresa
06 Aug 2011, 13:14
Does anyone know of a pick your own organic apple farm in NJ? I am looking in the Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex countries but I am willing to travel as long as it is organic. If not, how about just a farm that sells organic apples?
Melinda oliveira
08 Jun 2011, 12:07
In response to a few enquries: yes, we do sell goat meat, freshly prepared while you wait. Our address is 215 dey road, cranbury, nj. # 609.395.0232. visit us on yelp.com for pictures and more info. Thank you everyone!!
Abena
16 Apr 2011, 04:41
Hi, \r\nDo you sell fresh goat or mutton with entrails?
roger
02 Feb 2011, 15:57
I'm looking for goat meet for myself.Do u guys sell goat meat and chicken.I want fresh and cut.THANK YOU
Jean Tsafack-Djiague
02 Jan 2011, 19:56
Happy New Year to all the extraordinary farmers of NOFA. \r\nDo you need a volunteer at this time from January to April? Just email me and I will be with you for help 3 or 4 days a week.\r\nGod Bless you all.
sergio licona
10 Nov 2010, 14:38
Interested in supplying organic produce from SOUTH AMERICA; basil,cherrytomatoes;etc
Erica
09 Nov 2010, 15:05
I am looking for employment. Currently I am taking a course through Rutger's university. Not very far along but wanting an opportunity to start and learn.
Melinda Oliveira
03 Nov 2010, 16:20
I was reading a few comments on here. I am actually the owner of that "pig farm" that someone had commented about. My farm is in Cranbury. We supply all kinds of animals. Pigs, goats, lambs, chicken, rabbits, turkeys, beef etc etc. You can chose your animal alive and we do all the preparing. Nothing gets fresher than that!\r\n\r\nInfo:\r\nGordon Dey Farm\r\n215 Dey Rd. Cranbury, NJ 08512\r\ntel: 609 395 0232
Deacon Alexander Dukes
19 Oct 2010, 16:07
iam trying to solicit donated turkeys fo my non profit church in phila,for distribution in a high poverty area. any support you may be able to give would be gratefully appreciated thank you\r\n\r\n\r\n Alexander Dukes\r\n morris chapel B.C.\r\n 2701 N. 12th street\r\n Phila, Pa. 19133
MARIBEL OBREGON
26 May 2010, 12:59
Many years ago we were able to visit a farm with live stock (chickens,rabbits, cows, and pigs). I am looking for a farm either in norther new jersey or anywhere close to buy a pig for a roast.\r\n\r\nThanks.
Violeta
11 Dec 2009, 13:07
I am looking for a pig farm in Cranbury New Jersey.\r\nSome friend of mine went last year on the same time and they pick-up a pig. On that farm the pig was killed and they do the rest. They do not remember the name of that farm or phone #. I am interesting to by a pig for my family but also I want to do the same thing like my friends.\r\nPlease help me out to find a farm.
Andy V.
28 Nov 2009, 14:17
Hey Robin -\r\nvisit www.squarestonefarm.com and drop me a line.
Robin Kraft
29 Sep 2009, 17:47
Hi! I am looking for a farm in New Jersey to work on. I am college educated, have tons of experience and serious yearning to work outside. I've lived and planted in New Zealand, as well as worked in publishing, non profits and am now a massage therapist. Can you get me in touch with anyone that's offering jobs and experience??\r\n\r\nThanks!
Alice Diane Celebre
16 Mar 2009, 05:59
Good Morning ,\r\n\r\nWe are going to be planting peas in a few days and now have 2 volunteers !\r\n\r\nAn Earthday Celebration will take place at here at the farm on April 19th, 2009 starting at 1pm.\r\n\r\nCrafters are welcome to set up tables at no charge. There's plenty of room for camping for those who wish to stay over. \r\n\r\n\r\nThis is the site for our community garden.\r\n\r\nhttp://www.meetup.com/New-Jersey-Gardening-Farming-Meetup-Gr oup/ \r\n\r\nPlease pass this information along to those who may have interest.\r\n\r\nThank you ! :)\r\n\r\nOrganically yours !\r\n\r\nAlice\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
Jean A. Tsafack Djiague
02 Feb 2009, 13:34
Good morning to all the hardworking team of Organic Farmers of New Jersey's Northwest Great Skylands.\r\nI am glad to learn about the prestigious and great Organization where I have a dream to work with in the future.\r\nI am looking for a farm to join for the future. I need to bring my professional contribution for the growth and profitability of a farm as a team member. I am a multidisciplinary technician in agricultural domain and ready to relocate at any employment opportunity.\r\nI lean and work agriculture for more than 14 years.\r\nI have something to show, to prove and to demonstrate. My phone number is 862 772 5196.\r\nI am very exciting to go to the field. I am resident and had my driving license last year.\r\nThank you and have a great day.\r\n
mary mcmorrow
14 Oct 2008, 11:12
I would like to join a weekly food coop. Info?
Alice Diane Celebre
15 Sep 2008, 13:32
\r\nMonday, September 15, 2008\r\n\r\nRegional: Green Buildings Open House, October 4th \r\nOn Saturday, October 4, 2008, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association is welcoming the public to visit local sustainable homes and buildings throughout New Jersey and the Northeast to see clean renewable energy at work. Visitors to these buildings will be able to see how their neighbors and businesses are reducing their carbon footprint and cutting their energy bills through the power of the sun, wind, and smart building design.\r\n\r\nThe Green Buildings Open House operates in conjunction with the National Solar Tour. Homeowners and facility managers across all 50 states will be showing visitors the latest in recycling, renewable energy technologies, sustainable building materials, and energy efficient appliances. \r\n\r\nTake a local tour to learn how you, too, can save by going green.\r\n\r\nTo find the Green Buildings Open House sites nearest you, visit www.nesea.org \r\n\r\nRegional businesses, Basil Bandwagon Natural Market, 908-788-5737 (basilbandwagon.com) and Basil Brook Organic Pharm 908-788-6864, will participate in the open house again this year and provide information on Energy Star rated products, solar electric, Solatubes, Solar Star attic fans, passive solar design, solar pool heating, solar hot water, kickbikes, and an all electric car "charged by the sun." \r\nPosted by Michael Shapiro, Editor at 12:30 AM \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
Mercedes
06 Sep 2008, 15:01
We live in Bergen County
Amy Giovino
17 Apr 2008, 11:57
I am looking for a farm to join for the 2008 growing season. Can you help?
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