A story of the end of small-scale, homegrown food

By: David Owen

The restaurant dining room at Readington farm brings back memories of summers spent on a family farm, leading back to the grandparents who owned several acres of land across the street from Readington Creek. When I was a boy, the creek ran there, supplying water for a large dairy farm. The dairy farm near the creek was far larger than the farmers had hoped when they bought the land. They had to expand in order to keep pace with an ever-increasing milk demand, because the product was being imported from Canada.

So for many years the dairy farmer north of the creek was run by the Irish immigrant priest Harry McCarthy. He had no plans to retire.

When my wife and I decided to move to Central New Jersey, we wanted to buy a farm. Our wish was immediately answered by the fact that Readington farmer Pete Cunningham was retiring. Pete’s farm was just a few miles from the creek, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to restore a New Jersey rural farm that had operated for many years as a farm to serve its community.

There was no house on the land, so I had to create a new home – one that met the functional requirements for the farm, an open space for walking, tennis, and other recreational areas, a storage barn that can handle all the farm equipment, and a composting, recycling, and chicken coop. By 2014 I had incorporated Owen Farm Fresh, LLC with help from Larry Jaycox of Holmdel, who owned several farm buildings.

This is how my life used to be before Mark Zuckerberg contacted me.

No, I did not create this farm to turn a profit. I have always viewed myself as a man of the people, and I have always had a passion for farming and agriculture, for the benefits of healthy soil, for family farms and for small-scale, homegrown food.

Readington, an extremely fertile area, has been a food hub for generations. For many years, the owners of the school and hospital knew that I would be working with them to make them healthier, but did not know that my farm was functioning with the largest water wheel in the region.

In the past, I did not have a go-to supplier for grape wines and small spirits that I wanted to make. While I had customers in the nearby towns, I did not have a direct contact with them. I was able to create the olive oil, wine, and vodka brands that I know my customers would like, but I had never produced it myself.

The former home of Readington farm, with the new rambling farmhouse. Photo courtesy of Owen Farm Fresh

At Owen Farm Fresh, we now develop products for the people, which connects us directly with our customers. This connection is a two-way street. Our products are made and sold to several customers throughout New Jersey and have won many awards in several categories.

Readington Farm Fresh is dedicated to preserving our farms, our heritage, and the community that support small farming. I believe a food system that moves away from our grandpa’s palate and from the big box stores of the past, where you pay more for less, is very healthy for our children and our future. We see it now, we know it will happen, and we want to be part of that change.

In the “Legend” chapter of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” you see Otis Lemmon and George Hearn becoming involved in the fight for improved working conditions for farm workers. It is a good analogy for our business. Our philosophy: Put someone first. Protect the customer. Make us happy. Listen to what our customers have to say. Tell them what you have heard.

When Owen Farm Fresh was being designed, we said to each other, “If we can create safe farm conditions, we can guarantee the quality of our products, have access to raw material, and never face the harsh realities that farm workers are currently facing.”

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