By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP — She grows 40 different kinds of organic vegetables and fruits on 17 acres in town. She can fix a tractor. She has a trusty dog named Tilly, and now Jessica Niederer has been chosen as New Jersey’s Outstanding Young Farmer.
State Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher was at Ms. Niederer’s Chickadee Creek Farm on Titus Mill Road on the morning of Oct. 22 to formally recognize the 31-year-old agriculturist for earning the award.
“To be able to be an organic farmer and be successful is a tribute to you and a tribute to the people who work with you, and to your leadership. You are one of the hardest-working farmers I’ve ever met,” Mr. Fisher said, standing next to Ms. Niederer in a field for a photo opportunity with several other dignitaries.
Ms. Niederer, who goes by the nickname Jess, said she feels “very honored.”
Having been born into a family that has raised crops in Hopewell Valley since 1910, and having grown up on the land she now cultivates, may have something to do with why Ms. Niederer chose farming as a career after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in natural resources.
“Farming is a really a wonderful way to work outside, work for yourself and have an ever-changing list of tasks to do every day,” she said. “I can be a mechanic one day, an accountant another day, a human resources person, an ecologist, an entomologist and agronomist — and that’s all wrapped up into one job. So, it’s a really fascinating thing to do. Plus you get to feed your community, and that’s wonderful.”
Chickadee Creek Farm employs five workers, all “young women,” said Ms. Niederer, who leases the 17 acres she works from her father, whose total 80-plus-acre tract is permanently preserved as farmland.
“This farm has been in the family for three generations,” said Ms. Niederer, explaining she never would have been able run her farm profitably had it not received preservation status.
“Everything from arugula to zucchini,” she said, are the certified-organic crops she been growing selling for eight years now. They include familiar vegetables like broccoli, carrots and onions, and perhaps not-so-familiar watermelon radishes, broccoli leaves and tatsoi — a kind of Chinese cabbage with glossy dark green leaves.
“We do all direct-to-consumer sales — just farmer’s markets. We also dabble in restaurants,” Ms. Niederer said.
Chickadee Creek Farm sells year-round to walk-up customers and members of its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at farm markets in Pennington, Princeton, Montgomery, New Brunswick, Denville and Westfield.
“Last year, there was only one week that we didn’t manage to sell produce to our customers,” Ms. Niederer said. During winter, her farm mostly sells to CSA members.
Operations on her farm, she said, are by no means high tech but are “fairly mechanized” using vintage equipment.
“None of it is new. A lot of our tractors and implements are from the 1960s and ’70s, which is fantastic for me, because I can fix them,” Ms. Niederer said. “Everything we have on this farm can be fixed with wrenches and screwdrivers.”
The oldest piece of equipment is a bulldozer she said was manufactured circa post-World War II. Besides working on the farm, Ms. Niederer can at times be found speaking to school children about growing food.
“We often go into elementary schools to talk about farming to the students and do tastings of fresh vegetables,” she said. “We try to get them hooked on good eating early.”
For more about Ms. Niederer and her farm, visit chickadeecreekfarm.com.
By Frank Mustac, Special Writer