Route 130 signs will proclaim East Windsor as home of Lee Turkey Farm

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The Lee Turkey Farm has been a fixture in East Windsor Township for 150 years.

Now the whole world will know about the landmark farm on Hickory Corner Road when signs are posted on Route 130 at the northern and southern gateway entrances to East Windsor.

Mayor Janice S. Mironov and Township Council members unveiled a prototype of the sign at a special ceremony at the 54-acre Lee Turkey Farm on Sept. 29. The farm was established in 1868.

“This is a really exciting opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this great treasure in our community. Multiple generations have owned and operated this great farm,” Mironov said.

Mironov described the farm as “an oasis” in what is predominantly a residential area of the township. Through cooperative efforts involving East Windsor and the Lee family, the farm has been permanently preserved and can never be developed for housing.

The farm is a tri-state attraction, Mironov said. Visitors can pick an assortment of fruits and vegetables themselves at the “pick your own” farm. Turkeys may be reserved and picked up in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

“It is a unique landmark in the region. It has really helped to put us on the map. We are so proud to have you here,” Mironov told Dick Lee and his son, Ronny Lee. The younger Lee and his wife, Janet, are the current operators of the farm.

“This is a special occasion,” Dick Lee said. “I remember when Hickory Corner Road was a dirt road. My father and I got through the Great Depression. Two neighboring farms were owned by the bank, that’s how bad it was.”

Ronny Lee thanked Mironov and the council members “for this very nice honor (that) was really unexpected,” and he also thanked his father “for letting me do what I love to do, to farm.”

Now, Ronny Lee’s son and daughter, Dylan and Charli, work next to their parents. They are the seventh generation to farm the Lee Turkey Farm, which had its genesis when Ronny Lee’s great-great-great-grandfather, Clement Updike, bought the farm in 1868.

From the 1860s to the 1900s, it was a basic farm. There were cows, horses, chickens and pigs. Later, half of the farm was devoted to apple orchards and the rest was set aside for fruits and vegetables.

The decision to raise and sell turkeys grew out of Dick Lee’s membership in the 4-H Club’s turkey club. The future farmer joined the turkey club when he was 11 and began to raise turkeys.

When Dick Lee returned home after military service in World War II, he found that his father was still in debt and was considering selling the farm. Applying his experience in raising turkeys, Dick convinced his father to raise them by the thousands – not the 100 turkeys he had raised as a youth.

It was the transition to raising and selling turkeys on a large scale that was the key to solving the debt problem. Within a couple of years, the bank loan was paid off. The farm sold turkeys to other businesses, but now it sells them directly to consumers.

The Lee family expanded the farm’s operation to sell produce, in addition to turkeys, in the 1960s.

After Dick Lee read about a Michigan farmer who operated a pick-your-own cherries farm, he decided to try out the pick-your-own concept at his farm with apples and strawberries. It was the first pick-your-own farm in New Jersey.

Now, visitors can pick fruits and vegetables from A to Z – apples to zucchini, along with sweet corn, lettuce, spinach, peaches, pears, watermelon and cabbage. During the fall, the corn maze is a popular attraction.