Locals Discuss “Farming in the Millstone Valley” Today
By Barbara A. Preston | June 30, 2018
The world premiere of the local documentary film Farming in New Jersey’s Millstone Valley: Past & Present attracted a sell-out crowd at Princeton’s Garden Theater in June. The film chronicles three centuries of farming in the Montgomery-Princeton area, recently revived by the farm–to–table movement.
Local farmers and restaurateurs lead a panel discussion following the film. Speakers included: 13th-generation farmer Ryck Suydam of Franklin; fifth-generation farmer Dale Johnson of the Bridgepoint Historic District; Millennial farmer Lauren Nagy of Cherry Valley Cooperative in Skillman; Jon McConaughy of Hopewell’s Brick Farm Market and Tavern and Double Brook Farm, and Raoul Momo of Terra Momo Restaurant Group in Kingston and Princeton.
“I was in finance for 20 years and now have been a farmer for 14. I originally got into it because I wanted my kids to know where their food came from. The more I got into it, I realized the biggest polluter in the US is agriculture.
“I don’t like the term ‘farm-to-table’ because everything we eat comes from some farm to our table. What I like better is the term CSA — which is community-supported agriculture. Typically it means, you pay up front and get your food as it goes. But, I think it means we support local agriculture.
“To heal the land, it’s about farming correctly, and that takes community. So, the three most important things in life — food, air, and water — is protected and the local dollar says here in the community when you support local farms and restaurants.”
“We are losing farm land to developers, who just buy it, develop it, and make way more money than we would be farming on it." — Lauren Nagy
“As a millennial, it is difficult to find land for farming, especially in New Jersey where land is extremely expensive. As a start-up, young farmer, maybe with no capital, how do we do it?," Nagy says. “There ought to be a program. We are aware of all the land that was bought up to be conserved and is now sort of sitting there not doing anything.
“I pass all these fields and say, ‘that’s conserved and that’s conserved,' and they are just mowing the grass.’
“When are we going to start using some of this land we preserved to produce food? The future of farm-to-table in this area could include more grains, proteins, oils, such as sunflower oil by better using some of the resources we already have.”
Dale Johnson 5th-generation farmer Bridgepoint Run Farm
aka Johnson Farm (former Van Dycke Farm) Bridgepoint Historic District
“People do care and value the history of our area. My grandfather would drive me around and say, ‘that was a farm,’ or ‘I used to bale hay there,’ and now you just see houses." — Dale Johnson
“I’m glad my grandfather preserved our land.“I am on Instagram (njfarmer92), Facebook, all that stuff. Honestly, I try to keep people informed on what we are doing, to be transparent. I would invite anyone to visit our farm any day. I take videos of calves being birthed, of me pulling calves out of cows, picking tomatoes and squishing bugs — that’s what people want to see," Johnson says.
“As far as marketing, that’s my technique — just to show people that we put our heart and soul into it. It’s a real life view. We work hard to produce the best and freshest beef, produce, and hay we can. Please support your local farms.”
“I went to Rutgers, Cook College, the agricultural school, when tomatoes (a one-time staple NJ crop) moved to California. I remember my professor asking why." — Raoul Momo
“You ship tomatoes across the country and they won’t taste good," Momo said.
“The small farmer has disappeared and it has become very large scale corporate culture. My mom is Italian and my dad is from Chile. In Italy, everything is local, that’s just how you eat.
“My dream for the Millstone Valley would be to have more farmers. Small farms get no federal or state assistance and I think that’s got to change. The farm-to-table movement has been romanticized a bit. It’s hard, hard work.
“The community really needs to be more involved. Know where your food comes from. Know your farmer just like you know your doctor or lawyer.”
“There are 10,000 farmers that make up the New Jersey Farm Bureau. I encourage everybody to find out about the bureau. You might see our bumper stickers around — No Farmers No Food. That’s us. We have a billboard outside of Trenton so that everybody who leaves the capital will see it. We work on the state and federal level to keep agriculture sustainable.
“The documentary (Farming in New Jersey’s Millstone Valley: Past & Present) depicts the evolution of agriculture in our area. Watching it was a this-is-your-life experience," Suydam said.
Suydam Farm was diversified in the 1700s and 1800s (beef, pork, veggies, fruit, cherries, lots of cherries), then specialized in dairy in the 1900s, then diversified again in the 2000s (hay for horses, retail green-house products, vegetable products) in order to stay profitable.
“If farmers are not profitable, they are not sustainable. We are keeping at it.” — Ryck Suydam
DVDs of Farming in New Jersey’s Millstone Valley can be purchased for $15 at the Millstone Valley Byway Visitor Center in the Bridge Tender’s Cottage, 3 Griggstown Causeway, Franklin Township, which is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm to 4 pm from April through October. Also, digital downloads can be purchased at: https://cinecosmos.vhx.tv/.
Brad Fay, formerly of Belle Mead, and currently of Griggstown, played a large role in producing the documentary. Screen play writers included Jessie Havens of Belle Mead the late Judy Peters, who had lived in Belle Mead.
And, please support your local farmers.■