Morganics serving up organic grains
HILLSBOROUGH — Since the spring of 2016 when he switched over from growing specialty vegetables to growing grains organically, Scott Morgan has successfully forged a niche for the various products he grows at his Morganics Family Farm. Demand for organic grains is high, he said.
His biggest headache so far has been deer control, but by the end of November he’ll have his new deer fencing installed and those problems will remain a distant memory on the farm where he grows specialty grains and oats on 20 acres of his 46-acre preserved farm off Amwell Road.
In 2020 and 2021 he said he plans to expand his product line to include chick peas, lentils and sunflowers, as the successes he’s had with these crops earlier this year and last year were diminished by the out-of-control deer population.
Morgan was born in Media, Pa., outside Philadelphia, but raised in Clearwater, Fla.
He majored in psychology at the University of Florida Gainesville, a big agricultural school.
His interest in growing vegetables and organic farming began in college. He was graduated in 1998. By 2000, he was working in organic agriculture but later took a job at a conventional farm.
“After college, I was cross pollinating with other students that were in the ag school there. I had a big garden plot and was stashing rakes at a friend’s house as I rode my bike across town so I could work on my garden plot,” he said. After college he went to live with his brother near the beach in Sarasota and worked for a small five acre farm, for about four years.
Initially, “he didn’t want to hire me full-time,” Morgan said. “He said, ‘You have a four-year college degree, you’re not going to want to work here.’ It was an organic farm, all hand done, and there was one tractor. I learned a lot there.
“Toward the end of those four years I was working as a bartender at night and the farm during the day. A customer who was a regular mentioned he ran a 250-acre farm outside of town, so I moved up to this bigger operation growing baby leaf salad greens,” he said.
In the Northeast, “we’re growing all summer long, but they’re growing all winter long down there and you’re done by late May early June because it just gets too hot.”
At the salad farm in Florida, he said he got a lot of insights into how chemicals are used and managed.
“That was the wave at that time, but it has carried me through the rest of my career: How do you use technology to improve your organic methodologies?”
Since his wife, Allison, an acupuncturist and herbal expert, is also from the Philadelphia area, they made the decision to move back to New Jerseyin 2007.
She runs her acupuncture practice from offices in their home.
Asked about successes and failures growing grains and more recently chick peas and lentils, Morgan said he’s done well with grain crops in these cooler temperatures.
“I have the most luck with winter wheats. I just planted last week,” he said in mid-October, including hard red winter wheat, einkorn and rye, all of which he’ll take to farmers’ markets and make part of his CSA program.
His packages of organic oat meal remain a hot selling item at the markets he attends.
He participates in the West Windsor Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and the Head House market in Philadelphia on Sundays. He said even when he was raising specialty vegetables, his orientation was always on the retail market.
“There is an interesting use of psychology and communication skills at farmers markets,” he said. “A lot of the folks who go to these markets are first- or second-generation immigrants. They tend to be a bit more closely connected to their food supply,” he said, whether it be freshly milled grains or fresh greens, “these are folks who know their food and are accustomed to food that comes from somewhere other than the grocery store.
“As an organic grower, I try hard not to disparage conventional growers for making the choices they do,” he said.
“We’re all farmers — we all have to face innumerable challenges — however, if I can create a system that functions without added chemicals, I’m going to do that, because less can be more.
“I can’t demonize the chemical products or the farmers that use them, everybody’s got to make choices for themselves. All I want is for everybody to be transparent, and that just lets consumers make their own choices,” he said.
Morgan has partnered with other organic farmers in central New Jersey, including Gabe Siciliano at Abe’s Acres in Hightstown, grass-fed beef producer John Lima nearby on Amwell Road and nearby Martinette Farms.
“They’ll take my products and some of the other farmers take my product to farmers’ markets,” he said, including Fern Brook Farms in Columbus.
“There are individual growers I trust and know as friends and I know they will represent me well.”
Morgan says the way he’s been able to make it work growing grain on such small acreage is because he focused on retail.
“We have interesting varieties, they’re organically grown and I do all the milling and handling right here in this barn on the farm.”
Morgan uses a 1963 self-propelled combine to harvest his grains. Earlier this year when grains were ready for harvesting in late June and early July, temperatures were 105 degrees inside the combine, he noted, but he got all his harvesting done during that heat wave.
In 2018, he noted, farmers all over the state were affected by too much rain, “but one of the benefits of being small, I was able to get my whole crop of wheat off the first time it was dry enough to harvest last summer. I was able to do it inside of a week.
“This year, the harvest would have been greater if it weren’t for deer pressure.”
Even though he planted chick peas underneath varieties of wheat that have sharp, pointy awns, this year, he said, the deer trampled over that to get to the chick peas.
So he learned, and plans to have 30 acres of deer fencing installed by the beginning of 2020, utilizing New Jersey SADC grant funding that pays for a portion of the fencing.
“I said OK, the deer love these chick peas so much, I can plant them under the wheat crop in the same field space. The chick peas can feed nitrogen they produce back to the wheat and the wheat can provide protection from the deer. Well, the deer were hungry enough that they came in and trampled wheat on their way to the chick peas.”
Awns did indeed keep deer away when the various types of wheat were growing on their own, “but when you put a candy like a bean crop underneath it, it’s just too attractive to the deer; it wasn’t that they ate too much wheat, they just trampled it to get to the chick peas.”
“So, we’ll try again next year once we get the fence up.”
For the near future, Morgan looks forward to getting his new deer fencing installed before the winter sets in so he can begin again with growing lots of nutrient dense chick peas and lentils.
“Neither of them is commonly grown in our area, but chick peas are as cold tolerant as beans, so I’ve had success planting them in early spring. They’re delicious, there’re 101 uses for chick peas and humans have been cultivating them for 10,000 years. If I can get an edible bean crop that will work with my existing combines and seed drilling equipment, then I have the added benefit of having a legume in my crop rotation. That will put nitrogen back into the soil so I don’t have to be buying fertilizers.”
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