Abma credits hard work for success, accolades
Wyckoff — Jimmy Abma, Jr. is a fourth-generation farmer. He was recently named the Vegetable Grower of the Year by the New Jersey Vegetable Growers Association. Much of what he has learned to be successful, he said, has developed from actual work on the farm and working with others throughout the state.
Abma has been active in agriculture since he was a young boy. He went to college for two semesters in New York State, but he noted that college wasn’t for him.
“During the past 12 years, I’ve been active in the New Jersey Farm Bureau and through programs of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture,” said Abma. “I’ve learned more by doing things directly on the farm as well as from these activities and learning from other growers than I would ever have learned at a college.”
Abma took over the farming operations from his father — also named “Jim” — in 2005.
He and other members of the Abma family operate Abma’s Farm in two locations in North Jersey. The total size is about 510 acres, both owned and leased.
The original farmstead includes 32 acres in Wyckoff Township, Bergen County; additional acreage is at a second farm in Hillsborough, Somerset County.
The farm in Wyckoff dates to the 1790s, according to the family. This site includes a number of ag operations, including 14 greenhouses, composting facilities, and a Barnyard Petting Zoo.
Radishes, spinach, onions and garlic are among the produce grown here. According to the Environmental Resources Inventory booklet issued by Wyckoff Township in 2018,
Abma’s Farm is the only commercial working farm left in this municipality.
The greenhouses are utilized to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers, including both annuals and perennials.
About 50 percent of the flowers are grown by plugs or cuttings. Plugs are also used to grow onions, leaks, and strawberries. Most other vegetables are started as seeds.
About half of the ground at the farm in Hillsborough is utilized to grow vegetables, with about 180 acres planted with sweet corn.
“About 95 percent of the sweet corn we grow is bi-color,” said Abma. “We have grown white corn in the past, but bi-color sells best in our markets.”
Four acres here are covered with high tunnels to grow a variety of vegetables.
Abma said he hopes to have 16 high tunnels here in the future.
Much of the rest of the farm in Hillsborough is used as hay fields; rye is planted as a cover crop.
The vast majority of vegetables grown at Abma’s Farm are sold wholesale directly to supermarkets such as ShopRite and Giant.
“About 85 percent of all of our vegetables are sold directly to chain stores in the region,” said Abma. “The rest are sold to customers who come to our farm and to our Community Supported Agriculture program customers. We don’t sell through brokers or auction our produce. We don’t sell to restaurants or to catering companies. We don’t sell at farmers’ markets.”
The key to success, Abma explained, has been creating relationships with the farm’s customers.
“Our efforts really got going in 2010,” Abma said. “During the last three years, our ordering systems have become more uniform.”
He noted the Abma’s Farm is able to internally track all of its orders and deliveries.
Abma said that the time from receipt of an order to the time of delivery can be 32 hours.
When an order comes in late on a Monday, for example, the produce is picked from the fields during the day on Tuesday and placed on a truck on Tuesday night.
Delivery then takes place early Wednesday morning.
Knowing the ultimate customer — whether it be a customer buying produce at a supermarket or a customer buying directly in the market at Abma’s Farm — has been critical to success, explained Abma.
Two examples he cited: For some communities in the region with large Italian American populations, plum tomatoes and eggplant sell well. For Polish-American communities in the area, cabbage sells well.
“More specialized produce equals more value,” Abma said. “We work with our chain store customers to determine what works best. We may change specs to increase sales. For example, we may place only 12 heads of lettuce in a case rather than 18 to 24 heads of lettuce. The lettuce doesn’t get crushed. Better-looking lettuce sells better.”
In addition to produce, Abma’s Farm also has productive farm animals.
“We have about 3,000 chickens that produce both white and brown eggs,” said Abma. “We use the eggs produced by the chickens for sale through our CSA and at our market as well as to produce a variety of the baked goods we sell.”
In years past, the farm used to raise chickens for meat; the farm does not do that anymore.
Part Two will focus on the retailing and agritourism operations of Abma’s Farm as well as challenges and future growth prospects of farming overall.