DeWolfs cater to historically diverse ethnic population
NEW EGYPT, N.J. — Kim DeWolf and her family come from a long line of farmers who lived in Bergen County for years. DeWolf Road in Old Tappan, near the New York State border, is named after her ancestors.
So it was fitting when real estate boomed in Bergen County in the 1960’s that DeWolf’s father and mother decided to look for land elsewhere; they found some in New Egypt in Monmouth County and it’s here that she and her brother and a bevy of longtime employees make their living at DeWolf’s You-Pick Farm. While 222 acres may seem to be an intimidating amount of land to look after for some produce growers, for DeWolf and her brother Peter, mother Elaine and their crew, it’s just right.
DeWolf saw the trends changing so she and her brother jumped into the ethnic vegetable production market years ago. On weekends, DeWolf’s You-Pick hosts dozens of families, many of them newly minted Americans.
“You-pick used to be popular with older people from the retirement villages, many older German and Polish people,” she said while sitting in her Kubota farm vehicle.
“Those people must have passed on, and now, we have a huge variety of ethnic groups, we have so many Africans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Hispanics, Asians. We have to listen to our customers and what they’re asking for,” she said, noting her mother, Elaine DeWolf, 80, is the bookkeeper.
Elaine and her late husband moved the family down to New Egypt in 1967. Kim DeWolf is a longtime treasurer at the Hightstown-based Tri-County Cooperative Market in Hightstown, which was formed at the height of the Great Depression in 1934 to help farmers sell off their excess produce.
“Many of my Hispanic customers will ask for tomatillos, cilantro, Spanish sweet onions and scotch bonnet peppers,” she said. “The business of you-pick is busiest on Saturdays and Sundays. It can get very congested out there, especially when we start something like jute leaf out there. The Africans all come in at once to pick it.”
The DeWolfs grow a huge variety of peppers, eggplant, squash, beets, cabbage, collard, mustard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, green and wax beans, Lima beans, fava beans, long beans, red beans, edamame, heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, peanuts, corn, pumpkins and many other off-the-beaten path ethnic vegetables. They also offer strawberries and blackberries. In the fall, they open their 222 acres of preserved farmland up to more visitors with hay rides, corn mazes and pumpkin picking.
DeWolf said she and her brother Peter couldn’t produce the volumes they do here without the assistance of her foreman, Carlos Tapia.
His brother and sons come back year after year and she estimated Tapia has been working at the farm for 25 years now.
DeWolf hires about 24 seasonal and farm stand workers each season as well.
People often leave trash from their cars in the fields, she pointed out, and there are crews to mind the groups of pickers and crews to clean up trash that gets left behind. Even with that hassle, “there are so many positives to having people out here every season, I don’t want to sound too negative about things,” DeWolf said.
On some weekend days, she estimates the farm’s smooth dirt roads will often fill up with as many as a hundred cars, as you-pick is a popular way to spend a few hours for people from more urbanized areas of the state. And groups also come out from as far away as Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Peter is in charge of tending to the outdoor fields and keeping records of what was planted when and where, and rotating the crops throughout the fields.
“I handle the farm stand and a lot of the wholesale stuff we do and Peter handles all of the growing out in the fields,” Kim said. “Peter keeps maps and charts of the farm fields that show where he plants various things.”
Given the sheer size of DeWolf’s Farm, how do they keep the deer away?
“We spray coyote urine around the fields and we have permits to shoot of course,” she said matter-of-factly, “it’s limited to myself my brother Peter and a couple of other people on the permit” to shoot deer, and coyote urine has to be re-applied after rainfall.
“But if a deer or ground hog gets a taste for something, they’re going to eat it,” she added, noting they must be ever-vigilant and ready to do daily combat with a variety of animal pests.
Given that she was born and raised on a farm in Bergen County and moved to another farm in Monmouth County in the mid-1960s, what kernels of advice does a veteran like DeWolf offer to those interested in a career in farming?
“I was very lucky. I inherited equipment and I inherited property,” she said.
“I don’t know how anybody just starting out could afford the heavy mortgage and then have to buy equipment and fertilizers and seeds. You’d have to have some deep pockets,” she said.
“I tell young people interested in owning their own farms, go out and try it out for a time,” she said, “I know with us, our next generation, my brother’s kids and mine, they don’t have a whole lot of interest. I have a niece, Lisa, who is interested, and helps out, but if something happened to me and Peter tomorrow there’s no way she’d be able to handle it all. Maybe she’d have to downsize, because 222 acres is a lot to handle. We’re beginning to do a little bit of estate planning at this point,” she said, as their focus is to keep their preserved farmland just that — preserved farmland — for several generations to come.
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