Tindalls proving to be in it for long haul
WEST WINDSOR TOWNSHIP — Although the business card for Tindall Farms, 80 acres situated off busy Old Trenton Road, has a large strawberry on it to acknowledge the you-pick operation, corn and soybeans are the staple crops that keep Doug Tindall and his son profitable.
Tindall is a third generation family farmer. His grandfather purchased their plot of land opposite Mercer County Community College in 1914 — long before the college existed — and raised milk cows here.
Tindall leases another 520 acres to grow soybeans, corn, hay and straw. Their main plot of land, adorned by a sign out front advertising you-pick strawberries and with a 1,000-yard driveway, has been preserved farmland since 2006 under New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program.
“My grandfather was a dairy farmer. Most everybody was in those days,” Tindall recalled while sitting on an enclosed porch that is part of the house where he was raised. Tindall’s father got out of the dairy business and switched over to potatoes when Doug was still an infant. He added his father was one of the first potato farmers in the area to come up with his own harvester and his own pipeline system for ease of irrigation of the potato fields.
Tindall and his son, Trevor, now 34, grow soybeans, corn, straw and hay and run the strawberry you pick operation on several fields on or near Old Trenton Road [Route 535,] which runs from Perth Amboy in the east to Trenton in the west and is one of the oldest roads in the state of New Jersey.
Tindall said his grandfather died young from a heart attack, as did his father, several uncles and even his brother Richard, who passed in 1999. After buying out his brother’s family from their interest in Tindall Farm in 2000, he was also elected that same year as Mayor of nearby Washington Township, now part of Robbinsville Township. Needless to say, Doug Tindall monitors his own heart health quite closely and will insist that his son do the same.
“My father grew a lot of potatoes and tomatoes and such and my father passed from a heart attack and both my uncles had heart attacks,” he said, “when my brother Richard died at 56, I took over the farm by myself.” In 1999, the Tindall brothers were farming about 1,200 acres, but he’s had to scale back.
Tindall attended Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey in Ewing for a couple of semesters, studying to become a teacher, but jumped into the family farm business with both feet during the Russian “wheat crisis” of the early 1970’s. He worked with his father and brother on the family farm for what he thought would be a few years, temporarily.
“I had the most education of all my siblings, but the reason I got into farming was because the Russians had a crisis with wheat and I figured I’d do this for a couple of years and then go do something else,” Tindall explained, “now here I am 40 years later and I’m still doing this,” he said, laughing.
After a number of years in politics as mayor, Tindall realized he’s not a “public employee type person,” and after two terms as mayor, he got back into growing soybeans, corn and hay in earnest.
“What’s nice about agriculture is that other fields have their up’s and down’s but they are becoming robotic and automated and they’re sending jobs overseas, manufacturing is gone out. Yet farming is something that’s never going to go away,” he said.
Aside from his tenures as mayor of Washington Township in Mercer County, Tindall served as president of the Mercer County Board of Agriculture for two terms and as chairman of the New Jersey Soybean Board as well as the NJ representative to the United Soybean Board.
These days, Tindall, 64, and son Trevor, 34, and daughter Kimberly, raising two young infants, are involved in the farming operation. Tindall was raised in a family with five siblings, but now two of his brothers are gone.
“My father basically grew his own work force,” Tindall said. “We all worked the farm, my sisters, too. We were all commanded to work as kids. I had my first accident when I was five years old and my father left me at the end of the field, and they would move irrigation pipes and work their way back up to the house. My father put me in the Jeep and had me drive up and my brother was driving a truck in front of me when all of a sudden he stopped and backed up and it was combination of me not stopping and him backing up.”
Tindall notes proudly that his father, Harold, developed his own irrigation system and prototype potato harvester.
“He looked at a couple of the machines then built his own and then guys from the manufacturing companies came out to look at his harvester machine,” noting his father didn’t care about patents and just wanted to continue making money growing potatoes.
“Farming,” he added, “is both frustrating and rewarding at the same time. When you grow a nice crop, even if you don’t make any money, it’s rewarding.”
Since the family’s 80 acres were declared preserved farmland in 2006, Tindall has spent a little more time with the you-pick strawberry operation, noting he and his son and others who work off this busy stretch of Old Trenton Road monitor the visitors closely.
“One guy came out here one time and just sat in the strawberry patch all afternoon. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was just enjoying the sunshine and fresh air,” he recalled, “and that’s okay, having been involved in government and been involved on both sides of preserving farms, the taxpayers paid to have this farm here so I like to at least provide them with some reward for doing so.”
Pressed for advice for new and small-scale farmers, Tindall said it’s good to start out slowly and have a job or a few years’ worth of savings.
“I don’t discourage anyone from trying, you have to like doing this. I think of every soybean and corn plant I have out there as my own little child and if you’re not willing to go out and make sure that child is nurtured and taken care of, you’re not in the right business.”
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