For our premiere issue of Salt of the Earth, I sat down with Gary and Katy Rupert of Three Meadows Farm in Somerset County, New Jersey. I found out what goes into maintaining their mostly organic and self-sustaining farm.
I also learned why asparagus and walnut trees do not play nice, why Jersey tomatoes rule, and what might have been living in Dr. Seuss’ chicken coop. Enjoy.
Takin’ a Stand
What started innocently enough as a desire to provide better produce for their six children, Gary and Katy Rupert went in search for more land. What they found was the 43 acres where Three Meadow Farms now exists and the question quickly turned from “Where?” to “Now what?”
The answer came in the form of a small farm stand. But unbeknownst to the Ruperts they would, according to Katy Rupert, “eventually be drowning in zucchini and tomatoes” and needed to think bigger. After deciding to utilize more of their new land, the farm exploded. They were now supplying product to some of the best fine dining restaurants in the area, became a pillar of the community, and are now a burgeoning epicenter of local food education.
Lucky for the locals, the concept that started it all still lives and breathes at Three Meadows. The farm stand—although now relegated to a barn offset from the main property—is still open, supplying fruit, veggies, jams, and eggs.
‘Tis the Season
Although not your typical farmers—at least that is not their primary job title—Gary and Katy Rupert are farmers to the core. They embody everything that it takes to maintain and utilize their land while providing superior product. They have also learned how to adjust and overcome when Mother Nature decides to be a bitch.
Of course sometimes learning to farm year-round comes the hard way. Katy admitted to one disastrous asparagus harvest. That is to say there wasn’t one courtesy of a nearby walnut tree. “Apparently walnut trees secrete a chemical called juglone that is extremely toxic to asparagus. Who knew?” The Ruperts also managed to escape this past crappy tomato season unscathed by using indigenous New Jersey tomatoes that held up to the excessive summer rain. Go Jersey!
But what impressed me most about the Ruperts is the program that they started this past year; Three Meadows Farm Camp. They welcome children from the local community to the farm and teach them about organic agriculture, the importance of sustainability, and the process of how food gets from the farm and into their bellies.
“Most kids have no idea how food is produced” says Katy. While at Three Meadows the kids learn how to sow seeds, transplant seedlings, and harvest and pick fruit and vegetables. They learn that carrots live in dirt, what a peach really tastes like, and that eggs are not always squeaky clean and white. They might even get to see some of the green eggs produced by the Araucana hens that they keep at Three Meadows. There was no mention whether they keep any green pigs around.
As a good lesson in sustainability, the kids are introduced to the “piles”. One of which consists of the wood that fuels the greenhouse boiler. The other is… well… a pile of crap. “I love my manure pile,” Katy says, “it is nature’s greatest form of recycling.”
Afterwards the kids are given homework. They are urged to go home and start a garden of their own, perhaps instilling an appreciation for the process early and maybe even passing a little of that knowledge on to their parents.
During our conversation I admitted to never have heard of an Araucana hen. When my day on the farm was over I arrived back at my car to find a carton of the infamous green eggs waiting for me. This small gesture says a lot about the Ruperts and the effort that they make to share their good fortune with others. Thank you Gary and Katy, I will eat them in a house and with a mouse, on a train and in the rain.
Check out our Facebook page for more pics from our day on the farm.
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