Throughout the summer of 2015, I worked an internship in sustainable agriculture in my home state of New Jersey. For those who have never truly visited New Jersey, you may have a negative image of my home involving MTV shows, heavy pollution, and concrete. As you will learn through this post, New Jersey is actually a lush, beautiful state over ten thousand farms of all kinds. You will also read about how I learned to apply practical sustainable methods to organic farming by using alternative methods other than pesticides, and how to farm organically. I also learned more about the importance of organic food itself.
Flocktown Farm is a small-scale, organic farm located in Long Valley, NJ. The farm’s scenery is rather stunning, as it sits upon the top of the beautiful Schooleys Mountain surrounded by forest. Flocktown Farm is organized as a CSA (community shared agriculture), which means the farm’s consumers would buy shares of the farm and receive weekly “shares” of the farm’s produce and products. This is a similar concept to how a corporation works with investors who buy “stock” in the company. The CSA model has helped many farms survive and prosper in that the farms would get all their capital at the start of the growing season. This is important to the farm’s survival because the farm would be able to recover from what would usually cripple a farm’s production, such as financial disaster, low quantities of rain, essential equipment getting damaged, storms, pests, etc.
Flocktown farm has no livestock, but solely focuses on growing vegetables along with some fruit and herbs. The different sub-seasons of the summer dictated what we could grow at what time. In the first half of the summer I worked (from June to mid-July), the farm grew kale, baby kale, chard, bok choy, arugula, lettuce heads, peas, micro-greens, scallions, radishes, basil, oregano, leeks, mustard greens, cilantro, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and more. From mid-July through early-September, you could find potatoes, string beans, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, beets, dill, eggplant, bell or sweet peppers, jalapeno peppers, and more in the farm’s CSA shares or farmers market stand. The farm also prepared its own pickles with cucumbers and herbs they grew on the farm. Flocktown also sells meat and eggs for another local in exchange for the stand selling Flocktown’s produce.
My essential duties while working this internship involved working as a farmhand. Over the summer I seeded, planted, trans-planted, weeded, harvested, and washed/prepared produce. I would also pack shares for the farm’s CSA members. Every Thursday, we could go to sell the produce at the local town’s farmer’s market where I would help sell the produce directly to consumers. I would also inform customers on the farm itself, along with organic food in general.
In doing all of this, I learned how to apply sustainable and environmental practices in a practical, direct manner, while getting plenty of exercise! I learned about the harmful effects of pesticides and how over the time the populations of the pests will adapt to resist the pesticides genetically. For instance, a pesticide may eliminate 99% of a population of beetles the first year it is used, but the next year the offspring of the surviving 1% of those beetles will resist the pesticide rendering it useless in the second year of its use. Meanwhile, more sustainable practices such as, “trap-cropping”, crop rotation, etc. are far more effective methods to protect the produce. These methods are far more sustainable too, considering how the chemicals from the pesticides affect the soil and runoff into the local rivers and streams. This should not happen on an organic farm since they don’t allow those substances. Working at the farm also taught me many organic methods regarding the health of the soil, efficient land use, the use of organic fertilizer, harvesting crops with minimal damage to the ecosystem, and more.
There were a lot of important learning outcomes from working in organic agriculture. One very important notion I’ve observed is that organic farms survive and prosper because there is demand for them! This goes to show how people have a huge demand for food not produced by our current, industrialized food industry. The support and enthusiasm from Flocktown’s shareholders are what makes the farm successful. The community in CSAs, organic farms, or farmers markets is golden, and it is inspiring to see how many people were excited by simply seeing a healthy- looking batch of kale, or a pile of potatoes pulled out of the ground that day. Our customers were happy to know where their food came from. That is why it is extremely important to support our local food growers. Organic produce has better quality and contains far more nutrients because of how it is grown, and we would have far less access to this food without our local farmers. I encourage all readers to support their local farmers to help keep this movement alive.
By John Patrick A. Govan ‘17
Summer of 2015