Celebrate 50 years of organic farming

By Michele S. Byers

When Mark Canright’s father, John, opened his organic farm in Somerset County in 1974, many customers did not know what “organic” meant or why it was important.

“Farmer John’s Organic Produce was the first farm in New Jersey that called itself ‘organic.’ We spent a lot of time explaining to people what it was,” recalled Mark, a teenager at the time and now the owner of his own preserved organic farm in Asbury, Hunterdon County.

Growing produce without chemical fertilizers or pesticides was a novelty, at least here in the Garden State.

John Canright, a former biology teacher, was influenced by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring.” The groundbreaking book sounded the alarm on the health impacts of chemicals, especially the pesticide DDT.

While organic farming was new to New Jersey when Farmer John’s opened, it was more common in New England. The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) was founded in 1971 by visionary farmers in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Today an umbrella organization supporting chapters in seven states, including New Jersey, the NOFA is celebrating its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the NOFA-NJ chapter is promoting the state’s organic farms with virtual events.

Starting in April, NOFA-NJ will offer monthly virtual tours of organic farms, paired with cooking classes.

The virtual classes will be taught by Kim Rizk, co-owner of Jammin’ Crepes, a Princeton restaurant that features fresh, locally grown organic produce.

The featured farms all offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) packages of weekly seasonal produce.

“Farms will be highlighted throughout the growing season,” explained Stephanie Harris, current secretary and longtime board member of the NOFA-NJ chapter, and an organic farmer herself.

A CSA box from each farm will be taken to Kim, who will demonstrate ways to cook the produce.

“It will be an ever-changing cooking show using different fresh, organic ingredients,” Harris said.

The “Loving and Cooking With Your CSA” tours will be held at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month. Here’s the schedule so far:

• April 8: Blue Moon Acres in Pennington, established in 1992 by Kathy and Jim Lyons;

• May 13: Comeback Farm in Asbury, owned by Mark Canright and Amy Hansen; and Cabbage Throw Farm, run by Dean Buttacavoli on the Comeback Farm property;

• June 8: Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington, owned by Sherry Dudas and Jim Kinsel. Honey Brook started its CSA program at the Watershed Institute lands in 1991;

• July 7: Jeff’s Organic Produce in Cream Ridge, owned by Karley Corris and Jeff Lidzbarski. Established more than 15 years ago, Jeff’s Organic Farm grew out of ER & Son Farm, started in 1977;

• Sept. 9: Genesis Farm in Blairstown, founded in 1980 as a project of an order of Dominican nuns;

• Oct. 14: Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrence Township, founded in 1987 by the Hamill brothers on land farmed by their ancestors.

Farm tours/cooking classes are $20 for the general public and $15 for NOFA-NJ members. The cost for the entire series is $100 for the general public and $70 for NOFA-NJ members.

“It’s been a long time since I have had to explain to anyone what organic is,” said Mark Canright.

There is hardly a supermarket to be found these days that does not carry organic produce, and organic produce is also widely available at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, specialty food stores and through CSA delivery.

There is also an increasing awareness that organic agriculture is better for pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds.

The song “Big Yellow Taxi” found Joni Mitchell singing, “Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT … I don’t care about spots on my apples … Leave me the birds and the bees … Please.”

Now is a great time to learn more about organic farming. Visit the NOFA-NJ website at https://nofanj.org/ and click on the calendar tab for a listing of events.

Besides the monthly CSA farm tours and cooking classes, NOFA-NJ is also running education programs for farmers and home gardeners.

Don’t miss the virtual talk on May 16 with Mark Bittman, a food journalist, author and former columnist for The New York Times. Currently, he is a fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The event is free, but donations are encouraged.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at info@njconservation.org