As we were preparing this issue for press, we took a break to host an event in celebration of Edible Jersey’s 5th Anniversary and our 2012 Local Heroes. The storm clouds that had been ominous earlier in the day had cleared by the party’s late-afternoon start and, as our guests gathered beneath a brilliant blue sky atTerhune Orchards in Princeton to share food, drink and camaraderie, we were surrounded by thriving green fields blessed with sunshine and the earnest activities of a family farm. In that setting, all seemed right with New Jersey farming and agriculture.
High summer is an easy time to revel in the bounty of our Garden State farms. In this issue, we present our annual guide to community farmers’ markets on page 22, a list that has doubled since our first year.We visit the sweet story of corn at Ellis Farms (page 44); we enjoy a bike tour through South Jersey farmlands (page 66). And in Jared Flesher’s “Sourlands” (page 40), we find hope in the corps of young people wanting to farm in New Jersey. It is a good season for agriculture in the Garden State. That said, however, two guests were missing from our gathering at Terhune Orchards, and the reason for their absence provides an ironic reminder in this season of relative plenty.
Jim Kinsel and Sherry Dudas of Honey Brook Organic Farm, Edible Jersey’s 2012 Local Farm Hero of the Year, could not join us to accept their award that day because they were attending a meeting to defend their right to farm. The couple manages four farms, two they rent in Hopewell and two they own in Chesterfield. Over the past year, neighbors of one of the Chesterfield locations have become vocal opponents of their farm’s operation, due to concerns regarding road access and the farm’s impact on property values. Jim and Sherry needed to meet with township officials regarding the conflict.
The owners of Honey Brook Organic Farm have always fascinated me. Like most farmers, they are not ones to shy away from a challenge. They started Honey Brook Organic Farm in 1991, right at the moment when the number of New Jersey farms hit its lowest point in history. Between 1950 and 1963, New Jersey had lost an average of nearly three farms a day; by 1990, the number of farms had sunk from a high of 26,900 farms in 1950 to a low of 8,100. Despite the poor odds for success wrapped up in those statistics, Jim and Sherry grew Honey Brook to become one of the largest CSA (community-supported agriculture) operations in the country, providing healthy, nutritious food to thousands throughout the region while also serving as a model for successful, financially viable farming in the Garden State.
So the fact that, at a moment when they should have been celebrating their achievements, Jim and Sherry, instead, had to defend their right to farm was a warning call. As the number of New Jersey farms has returned well above the 10,000 mark and, thankfully, continues to grow, “right-to-farm” issues will likely move more to the forefront. Other farms and vineyards have recently experienced challenges similar to Honey Brook. The hope—the need—is that such conflicts can be worked out neighbor by neighbor, both for the good of the community as well as for the benefit of the individual.
As Jared Flesher points out in “Sourlands”: “the biggest reason local, small-scale agriculture in New Jersey has been revitalized is because consumers have embraced it.” Today, we take joy in supporting our local farmers by buying their goods and visiting their farms. In the years ahead, we, as both consumers and voting constituents, may be called upon to expand our embrace of their mission and to help sustain them in other ways as well.
Nancy Brannigan Painter
Editor and Publisher