Big changes due for Marksboro
MARKSBORO — Drivers headed for Stillwater or Hope may consider Marksboro just the place to turn off Route 94, especially since its iconic deli closed a few months ago, but big changes are coming to the village and the surrounding farming community.
The former farm equipment repair shop, H.G. Rydell Farm Equipment, known as Cappy’s by locals for Harold Rydell’s nickname, closed its doors in July 2021, but the 4,500-square-foot warehouse and outbuildings are bustling again with a new use.
Ruthie Perretti, who operates Ruthies Farm on the river side of Route 94, purchased the building from the Rydell family who were well-known in both the farming and political communities in Warren County.
Her idea was to create a small-batch processing service for grain farmers.
River Valley Community grains was already milling in a small space in Long Valley as part of the Red Barn Kitchen Incubator — which was formerly the drying barn for the 1750 Obidiah LaTourette Mill that was placed along the South Branch of the Raritan River.
The mill itself is an anchor of the Long Valley Historic District, but no longer produces flours.
Perretti and the millers, Lenny Bussanich, Laurence Maharian and Michael Hoza, met through Sr. Miriam MacGillis of Genesis Farm on Silver Lake Road in Marksboro, Bussanich said on his first day milling in the new facility.
MacGillis was also the one who introduced Perretti to the Northeast Organic Farmer Association – New Jersey which led her in 2017 to Elizabeth Dyck, an organic farming consultant from upstate New York.
Genesis Farm is very involved in projects to restore the Musconetcong River Valley and saw promise for more grain production.
The three millers and Perretti presented at the 2023 NOFA-NJ Winter Conference noting the resurgence in interest in heritage grain.
Bussanich explained he has wanted to jump start the local food economy for years but didn’t know where to start.
He said he found Amy Halloran’s 2015 book The New Breadbasket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers and Local Food Activists are Redefining Our Daily Loaf, which tells stories of how bread and beer are once again building communities even though most bread still comes from factory bakeries.
The book posits that modern changes in farming and processing could be the real reason grains have become suspect in popular nutrition.
He then realized he would have to prove there was a market for artisanal grains, and he was successful.
Maharian said he thought they would need some big pieces of equipment, but they were able to start in the Red Barn with smaller mills and rollers.
The millers sell direcly to consumers at a number of farmers’ markets — including the popular Morris County Winter Market at Convent Station.
Bussanich also delivers grain to a number of customers in Westchester County.
Their wheat comes from a number of farms besides Ruthie’s, including Cold Brook in Oldwick, Genesis Farm, Kimball’s in White Township, and a few in the Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania.
They can handle spring and winter wheat as well as rye, oats, buckwheat amaranth, einkorn, corn, spelt, emmer, barley and even black beans from upstate New York.
Asked at NOFA if they would do rice, Maharian said they would if they could find a way to do it.
Perretti said they have more people interested in their product every year.
When they contemplated moving River Valley to Warren County from Morris, they attended a meeting of the county Economic Development Commission where they were met with enthusiasm.
Perretti told the commission there was a market for organic flour just within the city limits of Montclair, where she owns a restaurant, because of all the restaurants and bakeries that are there.
They moved from the Musconetcong River Valley to the Paulins Kill where Ruthie’s Farm is one of three River Friendly farms in Frelinghuysen Township.
Perretti’s family has farmed the land on the Paulins Kill since the 1970s.
The 40 acres has been in hay, corn and feed grain.
She said she loves Marksboro and was delighted to take over the property.
Because of the size of the new mill and its outbuildings, the partners envision other uses.
While Bussanich was milling, Susan Varilias of Lazy Susan Granola LLC located in Succasunna, was packaging products in another part of the building. She makes flavored granola products and is a customer of River Valley.
The future may hold more uses for the building, including possibly a music venue, Perretti said. For now, she is working on a landscape with local permaculture expert Rick Sorensen of Hope.