Catalpa Ridge Farm counts on three seasonal streams
WANTAGE — Rich Sisti is a city kid from Paterson.
Even when he was attending Passaic County Technical High School, he said he knew that farming was his career.
“He was a future farmer when he was in Paterson” says Sue Sisti of her husband.
“I was the last class in Paterson — they moved to Wayne after that — and I think mine was the first class not to have farmer’s kids in it,” says Rich with fond recall. “Wayne was all farms. Haledon, Hawthorne — farms everywhere.”
Catalpa trees, which host leaves up to 12” in length and 4 to 8” wide, stand near the renovated Catalpa Ridge Farm farmhouse in Wantage, New Jersey.
The “ridge” is the mountain the farm sits on, High Point State Park and its famed monument visible if you’re standing in the right spot.
Therefore, the farm’s name.
Although the farm is on elevated land, soil quality is excellent.
“Some of the farms around here have solid shale,” says Rich, 69, who has owned the farm with his wife of 41 years since 1984. “This farm (Catalpa Ridge) has some rocks but they’re not solid.”
The Sistis bought the farm in 1984, and it was at that time all overgrown. “We cleared it,” says Sue. “It took like ten years to clear it. It was overgrown with thorn bushes and everything.”
“It grows over fast,” says her husband about abandoned or unused farmland. “You’d be amazed.”
Catalpa Ridge Farm grows everything from arugula to zucchini. “We’re always looking to do something different,” says Rich. “It depends on the season. I like the Oriental greens. And we’ve got some tomatoes in the greenhouses (of which they have three). There’s some radishes in here.” In the fall, the team is a big harvester of garlic.
Deer are often visitors to the 16-acre location, and the aged protective deer fencing will soon be replaced. Chipmunks, groundhogs, skunks also traverse the land.
“Bears are not a problem; they go after garbage,” says Rich. “Deer have been a big problem. This has been our worst year ever. Groundhogs can be a problem. And early in the season, you couldn’t sit here without a rabbit tripping over your feet. But now they’re all gone.”
“But there is an eagle in the area,” adds Sue, “and we think the eagle is feasting on the rabbits.”
Catalpa Ridge Farm has three income streams. Early in the season its heirloom tomatoes plants and vegetables; summer is CSA, and the fall is garlic. “It’s a nice breakup,” says Rich.
Catalpa Ridge Farm started their popular CSA program and deliveries in 1996 on the lower east side of Manhattan. It started out with nine members and grew to more than 100. “We put half of that field into tomatoes,” says Rich, pointing to a lower plot which the team farms. “And the other half is in squash. And there’s hay up top.
“We have a pond in there; that’s our water source. This,” he says, referring again to the lower field and also the greenhouses, “is all below it, so we use gravity to irrigate. It makes it easy.
“I have a pump, too, but the gravity is nice.”
Kevin Flood, 23, a Pequannock resident, has been coming to Catalpa Ridge Farm since he was 5. He now works full-time at the farm after suffering a job layoff after getting his first job out of college. “My dad, his old company, back in 2002 used to do something called a Global Day of Service, and Rich’s farm was one of the places you could go to volunteer for a day. My dad would come, he would bring me, my brother, and my mom, and there would be a whole slew of other people. I think it was once or twice a year?”
“I think we did one in the spring and one in the fall,” says Rich.
“The fall was the big one,” says Sue.
“So, I was doing it up until high school,” Flood continues, “and then I would always help out with the sale on Memorial Day and the Columbus Day sale.” He graduated college last May, got a corporate job in November, and when the pandemic hit, the new hire was the first to go. “That was in April, and in May Rich asked if I’d like to help out with the sales and stuff. I said ‘Okay.’ And I show up and he says, ‘Do you want the job?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’ll take it.’” He loves it. “I do; it’s nice being outside.”
Rich is happy to have the experienced Flood on board permanently. “You have to have help.”
Lisa (Ward) Farber, who raises cows in the area, also has been helping out for 14 years on weekends.
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P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925