On average, food travels approximately 1,500
miles from the farm to the table, according to the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.
Morris Plains resident Bob Hill wants to bring things from a little closer to home.
Most often, consumers aren’t aware of where their food was grown, how it was grown, or who grew it.
Hill wants people to know it was provided by Witchwood Farms and grown by him. And the way for him to do this, is by offering a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to residents.
As a way for local residents to enjoy locally grown food and support agriculture, many farms offer CSA programs. Farms offer a certain number of "shares" to the public and, for a fee, customers are given access to a weekly allocation of produce during the summer and fall months.
For Hill, the start of up of his farm two years ago was the culmination of a nearly lifelong dream.
“I’ve been growing plants all my life and I’ve always been pretty good at it since I was a kid,” Hill said. “I always wanted to be a farmer and I figured if I hit 50 it was now or never.”
Now meant leaving his custodial career behind. After 15 years in the Morris Plains and Mountain Lakes School District, Hill cashed out and went in search of his dream property.
The dream, such as it was, came in a plot of land in Warren County.
“I looked at literally thousands of properties online narrowed it down and started talking to realtors and I ended up with a little over 11 acres in Washington Township in Warren County,” Hill said.
Hill said the first two years were trial and error as he sought to work his land.
“I’ve been amending my plan since I got there due to environmental obstacles,” Hill said. “I originally tried tilling by hand because I didn’t have a tiller. Then I hired someone and wasn’t happy with the results. So then I bought a new subcompact tractor with a rotor tiller on it. I spent my entire pension on it. But if you aren’t going to gamble on yourself, who are you going to gamble on it?”
Hill said that his wife Anne, who works for Atlantic Health, may have had reservations about the career change but was nothing but supportive.
“She knew for the past 20 years that I really wanted to do it. My house is full of gardening books and DVDs,” Hill said. “She was very scared of it financially and she told me if anyone can do you can.”
The challenges of the first couple of years at Witchwood included weeds, deer, and irrigation concerns. But Hill said he had his share of “sheer luck and fate” as well. According to Hill he was able to obtain an entire fruit orchard from his mentor in farming and worked out his issues with water and harvesting with some ingenuity.
“One thing you learn to do is you learn to improvise,” Hill said.
Hill said he is poised this year to begin his CSA and expects the harvest to start in early May and continue through October to produce seasonal offerings.
“Lettuces, radishes, mixed salad greens, root crops,” Hill said. “And in the summer more hearty greens like arugula, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and toward the fall the cool weather greens and things like squash.”
The plan, Hill said, is to take on a limited number of people and over deliver and really take care of them. Deliveries can be picked up directly from the farm or from a location in Morris Plains. Hill said the cost for the season is $700 with a $100 deposit required at sign up and the balance due by May 1.
Hill said his goals are to provide his friends and neighbors with the best quality local produce they can buy and eventually build himself a little house on the farm.
“I just want to have a house built up there and grow enough produce and have enough livestock to survive,” Hill said.
There are 10 slots left right now for this year’s CSA. Those interested should contact Hill at Witchwoodfarms@gmail.com.