Rancocas Creek Farm Sustainable Farming and Food for Those in Need
Aug 29, 2020 01:08PM
By Jeff Tober
Rancocas Creek Farm is a new venture sponsored by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) to take a farm that has been farmed conventionally for many decades and transform it into a sustainable one that’ll grow chemical-free food, strive to build soil health, promote biodiversity and involve the larger community in a variety of ways.
Goals for the farm include creating a farm business that will produce organically grown vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers that will be economically sustainable and enrich soil health; implementing a soil and stormwater management plan to reduce soil erosion and absorb stormwater that would otherwise flood into Vincentown and the Rancocas Creek; developing a farm that supports healthy pollinator communities; and involving people at the farm as employees, apprentices, volunteers and customers.
The ultimate objective is to illustrate how good farming practices are a part of environmental stewardship and go hand-in-glove with the protection of the Pinelands.
In March, the farm received a Roots for Rivers grant to address some of the property’s stormwater issues. This program, funded by The Watershed Institute and The Nature Conservancy, helps restore floodplains with native plantings. Planting native trees and shrubs in the farm’s lower, wetter areas reduces stormwater runoff, improves water quality and provides pollinator habitat as well as wind breaks on the farm. Thanks to this grant, the PPA staff, board members and volunteers honored the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in April by planting more than 1,100 native trees and shrubs, done in accordance with social distancing guidelines. The trees, provided by Pinelands Nursery, are all native species suitable for wetter soils.
Vegetable harvest has begun, and the farm has been able to provide food to those in need during this exceedingly difficult time. In June, it obtained a $10,000 grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Fund to provide 4,000 pounds-plus of fresh produce to food pantries, distribution sites and soup kitchens such as the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, New Beginnings Pantry and NJ Farmers Against Hunger.
They are also able to donate healthy food to residents in Hammonton thanks to the partnership with Allies in Caring (AIC) and our work with the Hammonton Health Coalition. On June 22, the farm’s first harvest of 200 pounds of summer squash, zucchini, beets, kale and Swiss chard went to Hammonton families in need. Allies in Caring’s staff took bags with a selection of the farm’s produce to local families affected by COVID-19, who lost jobs and are caring for children with disabilities, or who struggle with mental health issues, and worked with El Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA-The Farmworkers Support Committee) and Migrant Worker Outreach to provide produce to farm laborers working in the region’s farm fields.
Furthermore, the farm is selling produce to restaurants, farm stands, wholesalers and CSAs. In addition to this year’s produce, they have planted blueberry fields, an Asian pear orchard and a blackberry patch for future production. They are also aggressively using soil-building cover crops, making and spreading compost, and procuring farm equipment. The part-time crew has been working extremely hard to make our first season a successful one. They extend many thanks and gratitude to farmer Ed Allen who farmed these 72 acres for many years. He has been helpful in establishing cover crops in the fall of 2019 and helping me to get the lay of the land on this property.
Rancocas Creek Farm is going to be a valuable place for many people to get food, find respite, learn some farming, meet others and celebrate diversity.
Jeff Tober is the farm manager at Rancocas Creek Farm. His wife, Becky, has worked for Pinelands Preservation Alliance since 2007. They both would like to thank the many people involved in the project including Tori, Katie, Brent, Michelle, Alex, Karen, Sonrisa, Tina, Bridget, John and Ski. For more information, email [email protected] or visit PinelandsAlliance.org.