Three South Jersey Farmers Helping to Change the Nation’s Agricultural Landscape
Jul 01, 2013 11:15AM
By Linda Sechrist
South Jersey residents Carla Growney, owner of 7th Heaven Farm, Kim Batten, owner of 1895 Organic Farm and Laura Chandler, owner of Smiling Dog Farm are three farmers who are part of the most rapidly growing segment of the nation’s changing agricultural landscape.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported last month that the number of woman-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. Add primary and secondary operators, and there are nearly 1 million women in farming, accounting for 30 percent of U.S. farmers. “Unlike the Farmerettes in the Women’s Land Army of America, that took over while men fought in World War II, women today are farming from a sense of passion and mission. Some want to provide healthy food for the nation, while others are looking to build community or live a life of deeper meaning,” advises journalist Lori Rotenberk in her recent article “Breaking the Grass Ceiling: On U.S. farms, women are taking the reins” published in Grist Magazine.
7th Heaven Farm
The similarity between Growney, Batten, Chandler and the Farmerettes, is their unfamiliarity with farming. Growney, whose farm specializes in grass-fed and pastured beef, veal, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, goat, and eggs is also a breeder of rare livestock. An international development consultant turned mommy, she learned about the importance of eating organic locally grown foods while her mother was dealing with cancer. “That’s when I changed the way my family eats,” says Growney, who is adamant about the humane treatment of her animals. “I sell some goat and lamb to local restaurants, who tell me that the meat tastes better than what they get from other suppliers. I attribute that to the fact that my farm is my backyard. I pet and love on the animals every day and they range freely, grazing on pasture and browsing in the woods spring through fall,” she remarks. In the winter, they still free to roam but their diet then mostly consists of various types of baled hay and grasses,” she explains.
Batten was inspired to name her farm after an era before farmers used chemicals or pesticides. Despite the lack of any agricultural background, she and her husband purchased a 14-acre farm in 2000 from a local farmer, intending only to have small gardens for family use. After three years of preparation, 9.5 acres were certified organic but only 7.5 are farmed. Batten sold her first organic tomato from a picnic table roadside stand on her property. Today, she not only farms but also plays hostess to a farm tour before a Feast in the Field dinner that she does in collaboration with Chef Fred Kellerman from Elements Café in Haddon Heights. “Fred plans the menu based on all the produce from our field. He just picked up 20 pints of strawberries to quick freeze for the dinner. The tour, which begins before appetizers, starts at the greenhouse where she keeps starter plants that grow into her large selection of produce. “Farming is hard work, sometimes from daybreak until it’s dark, but when I go out I enjoy what I’m doing when put a seed in and watch it grow and pick what produce, sell or taste and people come up to me, it's all rewarding."
Smiling Dog Farm
Chandler and her husband Bill Sweeney love dogs, especially their Australian Shepherd, Jules, who served as the inspiration for Smiling Dog Farm. “We bought the conventional crop farm in 2010 because we liked the layout of the land and the home on it. We thought we would try farming and see if we liked it,” says Chandler, who notes that the clock is ticking on the three-year organic conversion process. “We hope to be certified in 2014.
Chandler sells vegetable starter plants as well as herbs and flowers. “ We focus on selling unusual varieties of things that gardeners or farmers wouldn’t find at regular nursery centers,” advises Chandler, who specifically chose farming as a retirement option. “My husband and I wanted to do something that was enjoyable and kept us in good health. We chose this area because there is a good customer base here and people are very aware of the problems with food grown on conventional farms.
While the women all agree that farming is hard work that requires a deep commitment, long hours and self-sacrifice, they also agree that it’s purposeful and fulfilling. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 103 or 23 degrees, whether we’re having a hurricane or a snow storm, or if I’m sick or healthy, I still need to take care of my animals,” says Growney, who like Batten and Chandler, relishes any opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of eating healthy organically grown food. “I have found that the individuals who seek out quality produce and grass-fed meat are those who are either self-educated or have had eye-opening health problems. They appreciate what we have to offer and that’s an organic farmer’s real reward.”