Konopacki endures trying year of road closure, deer
MONROE TOWNSHIP — Ben Konopacki has had a trying year with his late Uncle Joe [Indyk’s] Farm. Indyk’s Farm is 38 acres of preserved farmland that fronts on Spotswood-Englishtown Road, much of it surrounded by woods and a nearby brook. Indyk’s Farm was founded in 1940 by Konopacki’s grandfather.
Growing up in nearby South River, Konopacki recalls helping his Uncle Joe out at the farm as often as he could.
He worked in a landscaping business in South River. Like his fellow Middlesex County farmer, John Hauser of Hauser Hill Farms in Old Bridge, Konopacki graduated from Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., in 1982.
Konopacki’s farm management plan for 2018 was disrupted by three separate events: The closure of Spotswood-Englishtown Road in front of his retail farm stand at the entrance to the driveway; a nearby tract of land where housing is under construction were deer were pushed out of their natural wooded habitat and decimated with his collard, turnip and mustard greens in July, August and September, and finally, extreme rainy conditions in September and October wiped out his fall cabbage, turnip and rutabaga crops.
“When you’re a smaller farmer, how many hits can you take before you can’t continue farming, as much as you want to keep farming?,” he asked, summing up the year’s events Konopacki said the township of Monroe notified him of the road closure on May 14, for sewer pipe and other improvement for the new houses being built, a week before he was ready to open his strawberry fields to you-pick patrons.
Konopacki’s uncle, Joe Indyk, who passed away at 89 in the spring of 2007 — on his tractor — had carefully cultivated a loyal following of customers for his collard, mustard and turnip greens over decades.
Some families regularly came up from as far away as Asbury Park and Neptune to the farm stand in late October and November.
“The road construction project was supposed to be completed by July 20, or around there,” Konopacki said in early December, “and I guess because of the complications underneath the road things got delayed, but basically the entire growing season was interrupted by the road closure.” He said even into December work crews still were not finished with road improvements and sewerage pipes and utilities work.
Lennar Homes’ “Monroe Parke” development on the corner of Mounts Mill Road and Spotswood-Englishtown Road pushed many deer out of their natural habitat, through a thinner barrier of woods and into Konopacki’s field of collard greens. Still, he’s hopeful the people who move into these new condos and townhouses will eventually find their way to his farm stand.
In late June, he explained his plight to a reporter from Edison-based cable TV outlet ‘News 12 New Jersey.’
Konopacki acknowledged, at least the township put up signs on both sides of the road construction indicating Indyk’s Farm and the nearby Stone Museum were open for business.
“A lot of people just see detour signs and scrap their plans,” he said, adding, “the bottom line is, it hurt my usual business.”
Asked about bright spots in the 2018 growing season, Konopacki said he had a good crop of summer tomatoes, given the weather conditions in April, May and the first two weeks of June, and he was able to salvage something out of the strawberries.
“My only complaint with the whole situation is if they had let me know a year ahead of time or even in the fall of last year, I could have changed what I was doing, maybe not for the strawberries, but at least for the rest of the season,” he argued, noting all good farmers plan a year ahead and have back-up plans to deal with the inevitable vagaries of weather.
Konopacki, his wife Cathy, a microbiologist for a large laboratory chain in Bridgewater, a lawyer relative and his mother applied for and got special Preserved Farmland status for Indyk’s Farm from the state’s Department of Agriculture in 2014. The struggle and stress of that process was worth it, Konopacki told The New Jersey Farmer in 2015, because they succeeded and preserved the family farm.
Konopacki and his wife and mother pooled their resources and put up two large deer fences in other growing fields on the property during the summers of 2012, 2015 and 2017. The most recent fence he installed himself with three employees to surround his three-acre cabbage, rutabaga and turnip field.
That fence certainly worked well to keep the deer away, he said, however Konopacki’s fall crops were affected, as were farmers all around the state, by extreme, soaking rains in the fall.
“We got that fenced in last year, and we had a problem with the weather this year. You think you have one problem solved and then another one arises. We had too much heat and then too much rain, and all that excess rain led to the failure of the cabbage and turnips in the fall,” he said.
“But that’s the life of a farmer,” he added, “you never get everything exactly the way you want it, the only bright spot is you can always wait ‘til next year. You always have hope at the beginning of the season and as the daylight gets longer you get new life to your motivation levels for the promise of spring,” he argued.
Konopacki estimated he’s spent at least $10,000 on fencing since 2010 when he took over running the farm full-time.
“Deer fencing is quite expensive, but it’s your only choice if you want to keep farming in central New Jersey,” he said.
“All you can do is hope. That’s the best you can do, a lot of the weather things are out of your control,” he said.
“My Uncle Joe used to say: ‘If it was easy, everybody would be doing it,’ and so, you have to go into farming knowing it’s not going to be easy. The challenge, and what is most rewarding and satisfying, is when you get people that keep coming back because they love your produce.”
Konopacki said his Uncle Joe also taught him to keep his sense of humor and stay grounded.
“This year, we had three bad things happen all in one season. So, if these bad things have to happen, at least let them all happen in one year, and then hopefully we’re done with it,” he said, laughing.
Between weather, an out-of-control deer population and perhaps too much new housing going on in central New Jersey, these are the challenges farmers face, he said, stressing he always agreed with his uncle’s old saying, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
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