Labors of Love: Local Farms Sustain Our Communities
Mar 02, 2016 03:06PM
● By Julie Grodsky
Conscious eating habits are an essential part of leading a healthy life. We are becoming more aware of not only the quantity of food we consume but also the quality. While factory farms and large-scale production continue to dominate the food industry, the demand for locally grown and sustainably produced food is growing. In our own neck of the woods, we are fortunate in having an abundance of family farms, whose commitment to offering locally sourced ingredients directly to buyers, to restaurants, and to farmers markets benefit the communities we live in. The following are just a sampling of the wealth of healthy, farm-fresh foods to be found in Sussex, Morris, and Warren counties.
The Mohawk House and Windy Brow Farm
Steve Scro, owner of the Mohawk House Restaurant in Sparta, built his restaurant from the ground up more than 10 years ago to offer locally sourced ingredients from area farms in a warm, inviting atmosphere — a true gathering place that feels more like a home than a business. His love of farms comes naturally, as he and his wife, Rachael, an animal lover and rescue advocate, have owned two of them.
While the Scros do business with a dozen local purveyors and farms within a 20-mile radius of their restaurant, one of Mohawk House’s closest relationships is with Windy Brow Farm, in Fredon Township. In 2013, Steve Scro met Jim Hunt, the head of that family farm, at a Sparta Farmers Market dinner. Windy Brow has been a family-run orchard and full-service farm for 15 years, and their orchard manager has worked the land for 30. The orchard manager’s wife bakes all of Windy Brow’s pies and pastries, including artisan breads, and their products take pride of place on the Mohawk House menu. As Scro states, “The apple shouldn’t fall far from the restaurant, and [here] it doesn’t.”
The relationship Mohawk House has with Windy Brow is both consistent and evolving. In addition to providing homegrown produce and homemade pastries for the restaurant, the farm produces a signature ice cream, the Mohawk Crunch, found only at the Mohawk House. The farm also honors its home county with an ice cream called the Sussex County Crunch, made from local honey, Windy Brow blueberries, and homemade granola. The farm’s expansion and evolution would not have been possible without Jim Hunt’s son, Jake, who began the in-house creamery, the Cow’s Brow, in 2013, using all-natural extracts, all-natural granola, and homegrown fruit to produce products that are both delicious and free of artificial ingredients. Steve Scro, whose love of family farming and respect for the farming community that surrounds him is plainly evident, feels honored to work with the father-son duo. The Mohawk House prides itself on reinventing classic dishes with a creative twist, and the relationship formed with Windy Brow allows the farm and restaurant to benefit each other and the people they serve.
Emily Hennelly, another local resident dedicated to sustainable farming, began her one-woman operation, Anythyme Farm, on her family’s two-acre property in Mendham. Though she doesn’t come from a farming background, she realized after earning her degree in English that what she wanted to do was staring at her in her own backyard. Beginning by growing micro greens and herbs, Hennelly has expanded her farm to four acres that now includes heirloom varieties of produce and Nigerian dwarf goats who supply the milk for handmade soaps. Anythyme Farm currently has 35 members in its CSA, and Hennelly hopes to double that number this year. Her commitment to the community can be seen in her participation in farm-to-table events as well as mentoring middle and high school girls who volunteer on the farm, and she’s currently looking for full-time help and to fill two internship positions.
Circle Brook Farm
John Krueger purchased Andover’s 80-acre certified organic Circle Brook Farm in 2013, and the fruits of his labor can be found at area farmers markets and local restaurants. The farm has an impressive commitment to community supported agriculture, with 700 CSA members, and hosts events that showcase the bounty to be found locally. Krueger plans to expand Circle Brook Farm’s production beyond vegetables by adding fruit trees, fresh eggs, and grass-fed meats.
School Lunch Farm
Margaret Noon, owner of School Lunch Farm in Hackettstown, has a mission: to reclaim unloved land through ethical farming practices and educate others on the effect that food production has on the environment. School Lunch Farm consists of 68 acres of organic-certified and non-GMO produce, begun with the farm’s own seeds. For Noon, “Farming is a basic practice like cooking that needs to be learned as an essential to life.” The farm’s shareholders are encouraged to volunteer their labor, because Noon believes it’s essential that they experience the entire growing and harvesting process.
School Lunch Farm has also served as an educational center for school field trips and workshops. Noon’s dedication to sustainability includes her insistence upon a “no waste” donation program in which reusable crates are used to carry thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables to Mount Olive and Hackettstown food pantries as well as the Trinity Church food pantry in Hackettstown.
By respecting the land, its bounty and the communities they are a part of, these and other small farms enrich us and our environment.
Julie Grodsky resides in Stanhope, NJ where she currently teaches Kripalu Yoga locally. A freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, Julie finds interest in all aspects of culture, from global to local.