By JIM WILLIS
Look carefully towards Hartshorne Woods as you cross the Oceanic Bridge from Rumson to Middletown, and you may catch a glimpse of something exceedingly rare in our area: a working farm providing local produce and eggs to area families and restaurants.
Meg Paska farms that property, at Seven Arrows East in Locust, but her farm and livestock may not make it through the coming winter. Despite a successful second growing season at a Community-supported agriculture enterprise that feeds more than 35 area families, Paska is struggling to keep her farm operational, in part because her business partner left unexpectedly last winter.
“His departure was a surprise, and I was left a little bit in a pickle,” Paska tells PieHole. “I’ve held it together this year, but we have taken a real beating. It hasn’t been as productive as it should have been this year because I had to run it by myself.”
To help raise the money Paska needs to provide feed for her livestock and keep the farm running over the winter, friends have organized a fundraising dinner on Sunday October 19 at Navesink Hook & Ladder in Middletown.
“The dinner is to help us get through ’til next spring,” Paska tells PieHole.
Looking out over a vegetable field harvested by volunteers the previous week as she lay in bed sick and exhausted, Paska tells Piehole she knows she’ll never make lot of money farming. “But,” she says, “if I can live off of this and go to a doctor when I need to and buy myself new work boots and keep myself and my animals fed, then that’s what I want. But right now I can’t even do that.”
What’s at stake in getting through the winter is more than just the goats and chickens that Paska would have to sell off if she can’t raise the $5,000 she needs. Paska is a pioneer in farming on large estates – a new model in which estate owners let farmers operate on their land at reduced rates.
She says it is increasingly difficult for farmers to make a go of it in our area because the property values are so high. Paska’s model depends on owners of our area’s large estates understanding the difficulties that farmers face and, as Paska explains it, “being willing to give farmers a really prorated deal on land access in exchange for a legitimate agricultural tax incentive.”
Legitimate being the operative word here, as there are countless examples of wealthy property owners taking an agricultural tax break while growing little more than their bank accounts.
Paska says that were it not for her business partner leaving in the winter, estate farming is a viable model.
“If we had another set of hands working with m,e it would make a huge difference to the productivity of the farm,” she says.
Deb Stasi of Red Bank is an advocate for Paska’s model, and came up with the idea for the benefit dinner.
“I want to see Meg succeed,” says Stasi, whose d’lu Floral Impressions is providing flowers for the event. “I believe that her model — having small farms in communities — is the way of the future. I would like to see major ag come down a notch, and for farms like Meg’s to grow. It makes so much sense to have your food source local.”
Stasi reached out to her friend Jill Green of 2senza fame to help out with the cooking for the event.
In part because Paska’s farm has been providing ingredients to some of the areas best chefs, she’s got a network of supporters helping to make the event an appetizing display of our area’s culinary riches. In addition to produce from Paska’s farm, the menu will include local oysters, brews from Carton Brewing and sweets from the Flaky Tart, both based in Atlantic Highlands.
Kids are encouraged to attend the event. Indeed, Beth Herbruck of Highlands says it’s the relationship that kids can have with Paska’s farm that makes it so important to keep it afloat.
“If Meg goes away, we lose access to being able to show our kids where food comes from,” says Herbruck. “They can dig in the ground here and see where their food comes from. If that dissaperars, we lose that level of education.”
Tickets and more details are available here.