On 127-year-old farm, Bader still at it
PINE BROOK — Ivan Bader, with the glee of a child, walks next to a row of Bader Farms fresh peppers and says, “See that. That’s my favorite tractor — a 1950 Harry Ferguson. It belonged to my father.”
He then points and says, “This is pretty fascinating with the peppers growing right on it. Isn’t that fascinating?”
He then sits atop the tractor and starts it up.
The engine roars loudly. The tractor “has been over all 25 acres,” Bader yells over the “lyrical” noise.
After hopping back to the turf, he looks around at his farm. “It’s beautiful.”
In Morris County, Bader Farms is comprised of two parts, both Changebridge Road-located. The visible is 5 acres of farmland and a market, the other 15 acres about ½ mile away and hidden off the main drag, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and cabbage among the growing jewels behind the brush, and a locked gate.
“If they (the public) don’t come here, they’re missing a diamond in the rough,” states Bader. “I grow the best tomatoes I think in the world. I’ve got the best flavor. For some reason, all my vegetables taste better than other farmers around because – and I’d like to give myself credit — but this Pine Brook area, the soil and the river, the Rockaway River, you can hit the river with a stone. But the soil, and the flavor of the crops — the corn, the peaches, the peppers — everything tastes different, even the cabbages. Everybody says, ‘Yours is sweeter.’ I think it’s the way I grow it. I don’t use pesticides per se. I’m not organic; we call is ecoganic.”
Bader Farms was born in 1892 (“We’ve obviously done something right,” says Bader regarding its longevity), originating in Roseland. Bella Goldie Bader was the first farmer, growing strawberries.
“There’s actually a Bader Road over here,” says Jean Bader, Ivan’s wife, smiling while pointing across Changebridge Road. The Baders purchased the current property in 1912 and owned a lot of the adjacent land and started growing other produce. The farm was turned over to Isaac and Sarah Bader, and then Ivan’s parents, Samuel and Frances, were the next to inherit the farm, and a farm stand was unveiled the year of Ivan’s birth, 1955.
“My mother … decided she was going to open up a little table to put tomatoes on. I believe it was one of the first stands around here. It’s never gotten really big, but we’ve got a nice following, and we go to the Paterson Farmers Market on weekends, we do a little bit of wholesale, and we survive.” Today, Ivan, Jean and sons Ian and Sean run the farm.
Bader Farms is a year-round operation, especially with 25,000 square feet of greenhouse space, but due to lack of size and staff, Bader Farm is unable to host the popular autumn corn mazes populating larger farms. Also, “A lot of hard work for a little bit of money,” is how Bader describes it.
“We don’t make what we should, and we’re making less than we were five, 10 years ago. Labor costs, fuel costs, and we’re really not getting more for our product now than we were 20 years ago.”
However, the challenges being what they are, the Baders find it peaceful.
“Where can you get a place, a beautiful farm, like this, in this area?” asks Ivan. “You have to go out by Route 78 or south or north…this is right in the middle of everything. I love it, it’s very private here, and very serene.”
Then there’s this: the locals know Bader Farms. “Everybody knows we’re here. I think there’s 20,000 people in this town, and I think 18,000 have been here at least once.”
According to Ivan, “In 2018, a bear tumbled through (the farm) but didn’t do anything. It went to the river.”
Three red foxes, habitants of the farm, are a huge aid in crop protection.
“Actually, they are the greatest thing ever to come back into our area,” says Bader with a laugh. “They hunt the groundhogs, the rabbits. They don’t eat the vegetables; they eat the varmints. They’re part of the farm.”
“We’re hoping,” says Bader, when asked if Sean and Ian will be the next generation to head Bader Farms. “It’s not like I was. I have been on a tractor and on a farm since I was 4 years old. My father used to put me on his lap, and I would steer the tractor up and down the road, and by 8 and 9-years-old I was doing all the tractor work. They put me on the tractor and said, ‘You do it.’ It’s been my life.” Except for departing and living in California for a year, the farm has been his. “I don’t remember why I came back, but I came back and took over in 1975 or 1976, went to Rutgers University and Cook College.” He and a classroom weren’t at that time a good match — for an obvious reason. “The professor told me,” he recalls with a huge grin, “because I used to argue in class about certain things, he’d say, ‘You know what? We really can’t teach you much of anything because you know everything. You seem to know everything about farming; we can only teach you the book — the theory behind it. We really can’t teach you anything.’ And you know what? I learn every day.”
“I love” farming, he said. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”
Bader Farms is open every day and is located at 290 Changebridge Road in Pine Brook.
For more information, visit www.baderfarms.com.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925