Mar 11 2013

Comeback Farm


January 27, 2013

It was a brisk day in January when Robert Reid, Trustee of the Hunterdon Land Trust, and I visited the Canright Family’s Comeback Farm in Asbury, NJ.  Driving along the banks of the Musconetcong River, we approached the long driveway just as the sun was dropping in the afternoon sky.  Mark greeted us at the door as he pulled on his muck boots, and we set out into the fields.  He and Robert grabbed a couple of boxes to fill with vegetables as I hung back to take some photos of the two approaching the field, as well as the two Northern Harriers (pest control!) gliding alongside us.  It was then that we met Pete, the Fruit Tree expert of the farm and Mark’s partner.  Pete was working with the farm’s two new interns planting garlic in long, shiny, plastic-covered rows.

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The most striking sight in the field were huge sheets of row-cover lightly resting on the ground – covering who-knows-what.  Mark and Robert chatted about Mark’s farming father and Mark’s time out in San Francisco where he lived briefly on a boat, before hearing his call to come back to New Jersey.  Seeing this particular farm for sale in the hinterlands of the Musconetcong valley, having the most fertile soils in Hunterdon, and a real-estate listing that read “use caution when entering second building,” told him he made the right move.  He and his family, wife Amy and daughter Rebecca, now live in a beautiful old farm house with views of the Musconetcong Mountains, where they produce tasty organic produce out of the rich soils full of ancient river deposits.

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Finally approaching the giant sheets of row-cover, Mark and Robert pulled back two corners, giving me an incredible view of lush, bright green vegetables growing underneath – in January!  These covers protect Mark’s delicious bok choi, daikon, Chinese cabbage, carrots and collards from frost, snow and too-low temperatures throughout the winter.  Talk about extending the growing season!  Planted in the late summer, Mark also uses the cold winter soil for storage of root vegetables like carrots and radishes. Leaving the plants in the ground during the cold weather converts starch to sugar making for super sweet, almost candy-like vegetables all winter long.  “It takes protracted single digits for the soil to freeze thoroughly enough to kill root vegetables,” says Mark, adding that not even snow cover will kill the plants (just pin down the fabric temporarily!).  Mark and his fellow farmers must closely watch upcoming weather to know if they need to pull their winter crops for the market a day or two ahead of time or if they can – as Mark prefers – harvest the very morning the vegetables are sold.

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Another stroke of luck, Mark found after tilling that the soil’s native seed bank contained Hairy Vetch, an excellent nitrogen-fixing ground cover that crowds out weeds and makes soil richer year after year.  Just beyond the row-covers and creeping Hairy Vetch, we come again to Peter and the farm’s interns installing rabbit protection around newly planted fruit trees.  “Growing organic fruit is significantly more challenging than organic vegetables,” says Mark, which is why he and Pete (expertly trained in growing organic fruit in the northeast) make such a great team.  In 2-3 years, the two will be harvesting peaches, Asian pears, apricots, apples, Japanese plums and sweet cherries.  The fruit trees will also help Mark to achieve his vision of an edible sculpture garden.  “Not that you will eat the sculpture, but surrounding the sculpture will be fruit to eat on the fruit trees all year,” says Mark.

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We passed by an old building on the way to Mark’s cold storage. Incidentally a zombie movie called “Skin of the Teeth” was filmed here (Rebecca still won’t go in the old house even though she was a zombie in the film).  In cold storage we found potatoes, garlic, and a few heads of leafy greens, and we talked about some of the conservation techniques used at Comeback.  “Trickle irrigation is far less wasteful [than conventional watering],” says Mark.  This technique is used in the new fruit grove, next to piles of organic compost used to fertilize when necessary.

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The setting sun – and Rebecca’s arms full of school books and fresh eggs – signaled that our trip was over.  I couldn’t wait to get home and sauté up some of the bok choi I acquired on our trip!  How lucky did I feel to not only shake the hand of my farmer and absorb a small amount of farming knowledge from his years of experience, but to also see the fields full of nutritious, local, delicious vegetables that I buy every week at the Farmers’ Market.  Stop by Comeback Farm’s stand at the Hunterdon Land Trust Winter Market and say “Hi!” to Mark and Rebecca – and know that your produce came from a family farm that cares for every vegetable plucked from their soil!

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The Hunterdon Land Trust is happy to support farming families like the Canrights through farmland preservation efforts and a year-round, producer-only farmers market!  Find more information at www.hunterdonlandtrust.org.

Lauren Theis, Hunterdon Land Trust volunteer


2 Responses to Comeback Farm

  1. Arleen Buchanan March 13, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful insight into a farming family.

  2. gael gardner September 18, 2014 at 9:55 am

    I make a trip to Droor farm every weekend whether or not i need anything ( I grow just about all the vegetables i need) and always stop to see Rebecca and Mark. I hope they will have lemon basil for me this weekend.
    gg

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