This fall is the perfect time to get acquainted with New Jersey’s vast stretches of farmland. Many of the Garden State’s farms are welcoming visitors with socially distanced activities and plenty of fresh produce and other goods to sample, purchase or pick.
At Ironbound Farm, a 108-acre, organic, regenerative farm in Asbury in Hunterdon County, you can experience food at every stage: growing in the ground, freshly harvested and on display in the market, or on your plate and in your glass. The through line from ground to plate is intentional, says Charles Rosen, CEO of Ironbound and founder of Ironbound Hard Cider. “There is this deep connection to the land, to open space, to knowing where our food comes from,” says Rosen.
Spend a day on the farm reestablishing that connection for you and your family, walking around the surrounding woods or perusing pens of pigs, chickens and heritage turkeys. Then sit down for a feast in the Cider Garden (reservations recommended), where the eye-catching, 26-foot-high chimney of an Argentine-inspired, open-fire grill towers over appropriately distanced wooden tables. Enjoy flatbreads made with heritage grains from River Valley Community Grains in Long Valley. Prepared by head chef Gunnar Bentley, the flatbreads feature ingredients grown or raised on the farm. The outdoor-dining menu also includes grilled chicken wings and a rotating selection of fresh salads.
At Ironbound, you can also get a taste of their line of hard ciders, made by cidermaker Cameron Stark. The original is produced from a blend of local bittersweet and sweet apples, including the Harrison variety, which Rosen helped revive in New Jersey. For rosé-wine lovers, the pink-hued Cape May Rosé cider uses beach plums grown in Cape May. Beer drinkers will fancy the Highlands Farmhouse, flavored with Cascade and Northern Brewer hops.
The farm also offers cider cocktails made with Ironbound Hard Cider, aromatized fortified ciders, and a new lemon-ginger hard seltzer that will impress any White Claw drinker. For kids, teetotalers and designated drivers, Ironbound’s filtered, non-alcoholic apple cider is fresh and flavorful.
Due to pandemic restrictions, Ironbound’s tasting room has been converted into a farm market filled with freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. You can also buy cans of cider, as well as products from nearby farms and small producers, such as a delicious, dense loaf of cider bread from Sweet Caroline’s Bakeshop, baked by Pittstown native Carey Bell.
Rosen values Ironbound’s partnerships with other local food businesses. He sees the pandemic as an opportunity for farms across the Garden State to develop and strengthen such relationships.
“This is the moment that we can create the connectedness with local small-scale farms, local small-scale producers and restaurants,” he says.
Rosen, a member of Governor Phil Murphy’s Covid-19 Recovery Advisory Council, is acutely aware of the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey’s farmers and artisanal-food producers. Among other issues, Covid-19 has revealed the fragility of our food system.
Restaurants are a major market for New Jersey growers, but most dining establishments around New Jersey are either operating at limited capacity or closed altogether. That means farmers have had to dump milk down the drain, toss out rotting produce, and slaughter and bury animals that had been raised for human consumption. Meanwhile, with a state unemployment rate that reached as high as 16.2 percent, many New Jersey residents have gone hungry, and our food banks have felt the stress.
Rosen, a Montclair resident, has worked with Senator Cory Booker (an outspoken vegan) on legislation that would benefit Garden State farms. “Because people are hesitant to go to grocery stores and [have limited access] to restaurants, there’s a whole new evaluation in what the local farmer brings to the table,” says Rosen.
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One way to support farmers right now is to visit them at their farms. There’s no better way to spend an autumn day.
Ironbound Farm, located about five minutes south of Route 78, is one of several destinations on the new Hunterdon 579 Trail, named for County Route 579, which stretches from Lambertville north to Bloomsbury. The initiative showcases the area’s fresh, local food options.
Ironbound Farm, 360 County Road 579, Asbury; 908-940-4115.Click here to leave a comment