Cattle roam at Lincoln Park’s Hidden Meadow Farm
LiNCOLN PARK — Al Nieuwenhuis recalls the trip, bringing four longhorns down with him from Norwich, Ontario in Canada to New Jersey, all set to start a cattle farm.
“I purchased our original three cows at this time in 2018,” he says of the December day two years ago. “I have a lot of farm blood in me,” he says. “My father (who raised longhorns for another rancher) was a farmer, both of my grandfathers were farmers, so I come from a line of farmers.”
That “blood” is now at home at Hidden Meadow Farm, and that longhorn count is now seven.
Nieuwenhuis met his wife, Danah, in Canada, and both now live in the 1800s farmhouse on the property that her dad owns.
Even though they renovated the house, the couple was careful not to touch the character and charm of the structure that speaks to the old days. “My wife spent a lot of time here (when she was younger),” Nieuwenhuis said. “She would mow all the lawns, and she still has a horse here. Danah spent so much time here and loved it so much, you could tell she had farming aspirations — and she was an animal lover, that’s for sure.”
Nieuwenhuis was raising beef with his brother in Canada, and when he decided that he would start a longhorn farm, he and Danah — who he met up north — headed south to Hidden Meadow Farm. “It was such an opportunity for us.” He then adds, with a smile, “In the summertime, when the foliage is on the trees, it’s even more beautiful. It’s even more ‘hidden.’”
Nieuwenhuis, 26, recalls his youth, when at age four he wanted to be a cowboy.
“And after that, just to turn into a beef farmer would be nice. And beef farming was considered something that you can’t make a living off of it. Think of all those hay bills during the wintertime.” After high school, he became a mechanic, lost sight of farming somewhat, and then started dealing with is father’s longhorns, enjoyed it, located an ad placed by a dairy farmer selling a herd, and then came the “spare change” purchase and move to the Garden State. “Just the way life goes, right?”
The couple has farmed the land since December 2019 which is not certified organic but they embrace the practice. “We are antibiotic free, hormone free, and are passionate about naturally and humanely raised products,” says Nieuwenhuis. “This goes hand in hand with our strivings for healthy ecosystems and a healthy planet.”
It’s all about regenerative farming, which becomes sustainable farming on the 34 acres.
“The farming I believe in and what I’m so passionate about is an intensive, rotational grazing. The animals are always moving. They’re always getting fresh grass, and in turn the grass has more rest, and the soil health — the soil health is actually paramount. You know, sometimes I’m thinking instead of going out to feed my cows, I’m going out to feed the microbes in the soil. We believe if you take care of your soil and the planet, everything else will come after that.”
“It’s a win-win for land and cows. We’ve been here one year, and I notice the difference. It just makes me feel good.”
The animals are born at the farm and sold out of the freezer at the same location. “It goes directly from this place to your plate,” says Nieuwenhuis. “We deliver our beef to your door. We started selling beef this summer, and with coronavirus, it was a really nice gig for a lot of people. And just the simple concept of the rancher himself bringing this locally grown beef to your door is what a lot of people really like. Plus, it’s coming out of the hands of the producer himself; there’s something about that.”
As year one ends for Hidden Meadow Farm, where the main challenge faced was, in Nieuwenhuis’s words, “quite simply to just get the ball rolling,” in 2021, he says he’d like to add more facets to the farm, like pasture-raised chickens and pork, and farm fresh eggs.
“Another challenge is that, considering our current location and being immersed in a largely white-collar culture, is dealing with doubters and the orthodox generalization that farmers can’t make a living,” Nieuwenhuis states. “It can be tough dealing with this as you’re trying to find traction.” However, it bolsters in him a kind of fortitude.
“It does however make me dig in deeper and hang on tighter. I might be stubborn, but I love farming. I will work around the clock to try make this work.”
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P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925