Once upon a time, just about every piece of property in western Essex County was a farm. There were apple orchards in Verona that slaked the cider thirst of Newark. The land that Laning Avenue School sits on was a farm; so was Brookdale’s property. Some of Verona’s old-timers still salivate over the corn that was grown at Jacobus Farm, the namesake for Old Farm Road off Durrell Street.
Now, if you want that old farm experience, you’ll have to journey with Verona resident John Ostering over the border into Cedar Grove. Near the intersection of Fairview and Pompton avenues you’ll find Morgan’s Farm, a Cedar Grove Historical Society property that John and his wife Julie have returned to its farming roots by using modern, organic-style growing techniques. Morgan’s Farm opens for its sixth season on Saturday, May 26 and just like every previous season, it’s gotten bigger–and better.
“People in the community have to know where their food comes from,” says Ostering. “Society has to go back to local farms to stop the problem of monoculture.”
When Morgan’s Farm was reborn in 2013, the farm occupied just 11 small growing beds on the 14-acre property that Courtenay Morgan willed to Cedar Grove in 1985. This year, there are more than 70 beds that cover a space as big as a football field. There will be more of the new farm’s first crops–exotic lettuces with names like Speckled Trout, five varieties of kale, 15 beds of heirloom tomatoes, just to name a few–as well as newcomers like rhubarb, raspberries, blueberries and a rarity for our area: goji berries. The produce is non-GMO and free of chemical pesticides. There will also be more honey, thanks to an expansion of the bee boxes by a Cedar Grove teen working on his Eagle Scout project, and more flowers, the result of a partnership with a new Verona business, Blooms in Hand. There will also be an expanded line of cutting boards and wooden bowls, which John Ostering works on over the winter.
That’s what shoppers will see on the farm’s Instagram and Facebook pages, and at the farm stand, which is staffed by Julie Ostering and other volunteers from the Historical Society. But there’s a lot of work that has gone on out of sight to get the farm flourishing. John Ostering has been assisted by a separate team of volunteers who started crops from seed in late February, prepped the farm beds in March, and transplanted thousands of plants in April and May. There will be volunteers picking from the fields all summer, and clearing the beds when the growing season is over in the fall. These volunteers include Verona’s Kerry Hewitt, who has been helping out since the farm’s second year, and this reporter, who joined the effort in the fall of 2016. Noelle Maladorno, a 2016 graduate of Verona High School, became the assistant farm manager last summer and is back again this year.
It’s a lot of work, but Ostering believes it to be essential. “We do it to provide fresh, organically grown produce at a fair price,” he says. “We work hard to produce the most nutrient-balanced produce in the area.”
Morgan’s Farm has benefitted the area in other ways as well. Its earnings have enabled the Historical Society to properly maintain the nearly 150-year-old farmhouse, which contains a museum of Cedar Grove history, and the adjacent barn, which showcases antique farm tools, so that school and scouting groups can visit. They have made it possible for the Historical Society to increase the number of scholarships it offers to three from one. The farm takes in organic fruit and vegetable scraps from Green Point Juicery and organic coffee grounds from North Caldwell’s Jola Coffee to enhance its compost, and it supplies produce to area eateries like LuNello restaurant.
“We’re keeping Courtenay Morgan’s legacy alive,” says Ostering, who is partial to quoting a slogan he once saw on a t-shirt: “Keep your friends close, but your farmers closer.”
Morgan’s Farm is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October.