You can take a meeting with Curtis Bashaw at his office in Cape May’s Congress Hall. But he’d probably prefer to connect with you at Beach Plum Farm, the 62-acre spread his company, Cape Resorts, purchased in 2007.
On this 90-degree summer day, Bashaw, 56, greets his visitor outside the farm’s newly constructed barn, his button-down shirt soaked with sweat. Bashaw has been packing cherry tomatoes into small boxes that he later will display for sale inside the barn. It’s just one of the many chores the hotelier and developer handles at the farm. “I love getting my hands in the dirt,” Bashaw says.
The farm is a pet project, but it’s also good business and epitomizes today’s farm-to-table ethos. Here, Bashaw and crew raise most of the fruits and vegetables served at the Ebbitt Room, the Blue Pig Tavern, the Boiler Room and the Rusty Nail—Cape Resorts’ four popular restaurants in Cape May. The farm also supplies produce to two other area eateries, Louisa’s Cafe and Exit Zero Cookhouse. And the farm itself has become a must-see tourist stop.
Amish carpenters built Beach Plum’s raw-beamed barn in 2015. The pine boards still smell freshly cut. Here, locals and vacationers can purchase Beach Plum fruit and veggies, fresh eggs, whole chickens and various cuts of pork. Products for the home are sold on the barn’s second floor. Last summer, Beach Plum opened a kitchen in the barn to serve breakfast and lunch to the steady flow of visitors, many of whom bicycle to the farm from downtown Cape May, less than two miles away.
Farm tours are conducted at 11 each morning. I am lucky to have Bashaw as my personal guide. We start in the herb garden, its 32 raised beds bursting with tasty plants, all naturally grown without pesticides. Bashaw snips off leaves and shares them with me for taste. He recites the names as we nibble: chervil, bergamot, sweet cicely, banana mint, apple mint, lemon verbena, various kinds of thyme.
We proceed to the henhouses, where some 150 chickens—mixed breeds known as Easter-eggers—produce a parade of blue eggs. Other breeds face a less kind fate. “Our meat chickens are delicious,” says Bashaw.
We follow a path through a woodsy section of the farm to the back fields. The loamy soil here, he says, had been fallow for years. Once it was a dairy farm; lima beans were also raised. Now the fields are back in production. Bashaw points out plots of asparagus, sunchokes and garlic. Free-range chickens roam around their coops in the back fields. Nearby are stacked rows of bee hives for fresh honey.
Across the path, a huge sow suckles her offspring. Beach Plum keeps about 25 breeding sows and two boars—pure-bred Berkshires and Herefords. Still more pigs reside on a second Cape Resorts farm a few miles away. The pigs are slaughtered for bacon, sausage, scrapple and chops. Throughout the summer, the Rusty Nail roasts a whole Beach Plum pig every Monday night.
Agriculture is nothing new to Bashaw. As a boy, his paternal grandfather farmed 10 acres in Cherry Hill. “He always had plenty of work for me,” Bashaw says.
These days, farming speaks to Bashaw’s soul. “To shepherd a landscape is a really fun thing,” he says as we continue the tour under the noonday sun. “It’s very peaceful to experience the rhythm of a farm. There’s life and death all around you. You feel the rhythms. It takes away the anxiety of all the other stuff.”
For Bashaw, the other stuff includes the Cape Resorts lineup of restaurants and hotels. His Cape May properties include the Virginia (his first project, developed in 1989); the Beach Shack; and Congress Hall, the 19th-century hotel he purchased out of bankruptcy in 1995 and reopened in 2002. He considers the rebirth of Congress Hall his “greatest accomplishment.” And no wonder; Bashaw’s maternal grandfather, radio preacher Carl McIntire, owned Congress Hall from 1968 to 1995. Bashaw worked there as a busboy starting at age 15; two years later, he advanced to waiter. By 21, he was managing the property. Now it’s his crown jewel.
Bashaw spots a patch of plump, red fruit he identifies as everbearing strawberries. They grow from early summer to first frost, he explains. We each taste a handful of the luscious beauties. “They’re warm,” Bashaw declares, his slate-blue eyes sparkling with delight. “You can taste the sunlight.”
We poke our heads inside a hothouse where cucumbers, tomatoes and lemongrass are thriving. Lettuce grows here year-round.
Bashaw notes the considerable cost of equipment and irrigation needed to keep the farm buzzing. “We probably have a $600,000 to $700,000 investment, not including the land,” he says. But thanks to Beach Plum’s captive market, the farm, he says, is already profitable. Bashaw started the operation with a single master gardener; today, there are 21 employees. The investment continues; last year, Cape Resorts purchased a circa-1730 farm in nearby Goshen, adding 80 acres to its portfolio of agricultural properties.
Beach Plum plans special farm-to-table, BYO dinners throughout the summer; check their website for schedule and reservations. The farm and market are open Saturday and Sunday until mid-June and daily for the rest of the summer; market hours are 8 am to 5 pm. New this summer is the Woodlands Marsh Trail through the surrounding woods.Click here to leave a comment