A Chat with the Folks at Stokes Farm

Fifth-generation farmer Ron Binaghi Jr. discusses the future of his family's Bergen County farm, one of the original 12 farms to join the New York City Greenmarket system.

Stokes Farm produce at the Tucker Square Greenmarket in New York. (Photo courtesy of Stokes Farm)

Stokes Farm in Old Tappan in Bergen County covers just 17 acres, but has been around a long time. It was founded in 1873 by Isaiah Stokes and is now run by his great-grandson Ron Binaghi Jr. In 1976, when Ron Jr. was 16, Stokes was one of the original 12 farms to join the New York City Greenmarket system. Ron Jr. remembers the first day at the Union Square Greenmarket: “Andy Warhol was one of our first customers.”

Table Hopping: What makes farming last in the family? Why do you do it?

Ron Binaghi Jr.: I grew up with it, and I love it. If you don’t love farming, you’re gonna fail. Quickly. I like making my own hours. I like the challenge. Every day there’s 50 things happening.

TH: What do you grow, uncommon and otherwise?

RB: Herbs are our unique thing. Lemon verbena, anise hyssop, savory, chocolate mint. For produce, we grow heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberries, asparagus in spring, cucumbers. Pumpkin season is coming. We’re 17 acres. The average farm in New Jersey is 95 acres. So we don’t grow apples, we don’t grow corn. This morning I drove to Farm’s View in Wayne to get corn—best in the state.

TH: Your father, Ron Sr., opened the farm stand on DeWolf Road in 1955, and you guys rebuilt it about five years ago. Why?

RB: Originally it was a four-post shed directly on the street. They put it out the year my parents got married. My father likes to say they probably made more money than we do now—no overhead. Now we have the next generation ambitious to be involved, so we spent the money and put up a new building. We moved it back from the street to have a little more parking. And we have a full bakery. My wife Jeanine does the baking.

TH: You recently did a farm-to-table dinner in the Farmstand. How did that come about?

RB: We sell to about 30 restaurants in New York City, most of them very high-end. We found this chef, John Karangis, who works at Union Square Café but lives in Rivervale. It was his idea. He said ‘You guys have been talking about farm-to-table, I’d really like to do that with you.’ We were busy doing a million other things, but finally said yes. We advertised it only on our email list for the farm and on Facebook. It sold out in about a day. It cose $130 for dinner, plus tastings from Tomasello [Winery of Hammonton]. We have one coming up September 30 with chef Danny Inserra. He had a restaurant in Pearl River called Adagio, and used to work for David Bouley in the city.

TH: Speaking of Bouley, who are some of your other restaurant clients?

RB: Among others, we sell to the Jean-Georges group and the Boulud group.

TH: What about in New Jersey?

RB: There’s only one—Biddy O’Malley’s in Northvale and Englewood. They’re great.

TH: Why only one?

RB: We just found that Jersey restaurants don’t understand. They want to make one phone call to a purveyor and get all their produce. In New York, most chefs are European-trained, they don’t know what it means to call a purveyor for everything. All they know is the farmers’ market. Not that I’m speaking ill of Jersey chefs. The way the system is, they’re overworked.

TH: What about Jersey consumers?

RB: They don’t understand a lot. I actually give talks about it. I’m speaking Tuesday night [September 11] at the Ramsey Garden Club. There are a lot of 30-something couples with kids, they want convenience. They want to call Blue Apron, Fresh Direct, or PeaPod. They have to get to soccer, the orthodontist, then it’s homework, bed. Our farm stand is another trip. It’s hard.

TH: Does your CSA program help?

RB: It’s done very well. But people come in, pick up a box and run back to the car. We try to teach people how to eat seasonally. Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s—they’re doing a better job than ever before. They can reproduce almost everything, except for us, our knowledge of where the food comes from. You can’t ask the guy at the store with the green apron. He’s out at 4 o’clock.

TH: Is there more community outreach in Stokes’s future?

RB: Absolutely. I give talks every winter to about four or five different groups. We’ll do farm tours with schools, Brownies, environmental groups. Usually we close after Thanksgiving, but this year we’re staying open on weekends after Thanksgiving. One week we’ll have a craft show, then a gingerbread making class. One weekend we’ll show you how to make herb wreaths. A farmer buddy of mine in Mahwah told me, ‘If you’re gonna grow vegetables in Bergen County, you’re gonna fail. You have to have some entertainment value to your farm.’

Stokes Farm is located at 23 DeWolf Road in Old Tappan. The stand is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM.

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