Years ago, when you ask random people on the street “is owning your own home an American Dream?” Many would answer you with a firm yes! But nowadays, I don’t know how many people will give you the same answer, but noticeably, the American dream seems shifting from home ownership to a more sustainable living style. Some Americans prefer renting over ownership, free more liquidity to the market in hope of generating more wealth; some Americans religious beliefs emphasize spirituality growth and freedom over physical materialism entanglement; some wealthy Americans even purchasing vast woodlands from government to preserve and protect the nature beauty from urbanization and overexploitation…Having a piece of land parcel oasis, growing your own food, raising your own chicken, picking your own eggs, keep the question in mind:” Chicken, eggs, which come first?” is definitely back into Americans’ dreamy way of living, sustainably, freely and lastingly.
Speaking of farming, science and technology are the vital power sources in respect to R & D in agriculture, aquaculture, silviculture, viticulture etc. as well as animal husbandry, from traditional earth-bound soil farming to aquaponics, from wild fisheries to aqua farming, from pasturage to agroecology. We are not only focusing on lowering the production cost of money and time, or gaining more produce yields, but also considering the entire ecosystem as a whole, finding the balance, growing food responsively in this God’s Kingdom. In order to have an understanding of today’s farming, we are turning back in time, to step into the past of Farming in New Jersey: presenting you with a list of selected few Historical Farms in Northwest New Jersey region for you to explore more, some are still in operation and inherited from generations to generations, some are less fortunate, but remain a viable part in NJ Farms History.
Now, let’s zoom out a little bit to get a bird eye view of the Garden State. The State of New Jersey is a small state in terms of area, only 7,354 square miles of land, measuring 166 miles from High Point in Sussex County to Cape May in its southern tip as the longest north-to-south distance, and the width is defined in a range of only 32-55 miles. Atlantic Coastal Plain and Appalachian Mountains are the two geographic features at the land of New Jersey. The soil patterns of the plain comprised of loose sand, soft clay and marl, which allows the coastal plain to function as an aquifer, but due to the soil’s high acidity level, most of the Atlantic Coastal Plain was under-utilized in the 19th and 20th century. On the other hand, Appalachian Mountain region, is consisted of ridges and valleys, which made it very unlikely for large-scale farming, as in the past, and today, farmers in Northwest NJ mainly engage in small-scale livestock, dairy/herd pasturage, fruit orchards, crops and grass produces.
The Native American "Delaware Indians” of the Lenape tribes were the first recorded agriculture practitioners in New Jersey, and they lived here at least 10,000 years ago before the first Europeans arrived. They developed a Three Sisters Method to plant crops: Corn, Beans and Squash. They planted corn first, which Indians called maize, then surrounded by beans, last they planted squash. Corn provides a support for beans to climb, beans release nitrogen which fertilize the soil, they also use wood ash and fish as fertilizers. The broad leaf of squash provides shade for the soil. Of course, at that time, little did people know much about the scientific nature of the soil and farming techniques. Up to 1850, farmers in New Jersey faced way too many common disasters, such as crop failures or “worn-out “soils. In the late 1840s, people started questioning and researching, trying to find solutions to feed families, the publication of George Hammell Cook’s geological survey was recognized and this research led him to determine where to mine marl. Cook and others early efforts were greatly expanded by J. A. Fenwick and his son-in-Law Joseph J. White. Guided by Cook’s discovery, in White’s 1895 logbook, they proved that Pine Barrens’ soil was too acidic for traditional crops but could be successful in cranberry bogs. This proof finding is benefiting cranberry farmers even today. Like cranberries, wild blueberries also thrive on this sour land character of New Jersey Pine Barrens. And do you know the Whitesbog Village in New Jersey is considered the birthplace to the global blueberry business? It was also the first place anywhere to commercially farm the Highbush Blueberry. The contributor of its popularity is Elizabeth Coleman White, daughter of a cranberry farmer, and Frederick Coville, a botanist who just made a groundbreaking discovery that Blueberries demand highly acidic soil. Coville and White set out to find the best blueberries in the wild then cultivated them and eventually crossbreed to scale farming.
Today, Blueberries are mainly grown in Atlantic and Burlington Counties. New Jersey’s Blueberry ranked the second nationally with only the two counties production, behind Michigan. And holds its third place nationwide in Cranberry production after Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Even though the State of New Jersey is small in size, but it’s mighty in respect of Cranberry and Blueberry produces even today.
After learning a brief history of farming in New Jersey, are you ready to explore more on the History of Farms in the Northwest New Jersey?
The Vass House (Vass Farmstead)
White Township Farms
- To learn more at NJ Skylands
Fosterfields Living Historical Farm
High Breeze Farm
- To Learn more at Wikipedia
Melick's Town Farm
National Register of Historic Places: a searchable database online