June 18, 2003 - NJ.com: Niger RPCV Erica Phillips farms using organic practices

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Niger: Peace Corps Niger : The Peace Corps in Niger: June 18, 2003 - NJ.com: Niger RPCV Erica Phillips farms using organic practices

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 6:35 am: Edit Post

Niger RPCV Erica Phillips farms using organic practices

Read and comment on this story from NJ.com about Erica Phillips, a Returned Volunteer who served in Niger from 1998 to 2001, who farms in New Jersey using organic practices. She's among an increasing number of young Mercer County farmers following organic practices to satisfy a growing demand for organics at local farm markets and restaurants. The time she spent in Africa laid the groundwork for her work toward organic certification for seven acres at Hope-View Farm in Hopewell Township. With the Peace Corps she learned, then taught, how to maximize crop yields and enrich the soil. Read the story at:

More local farmers choosing organic*

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More local farmers choosing organic

Farmers are making the transition to keep up with a demand that is growing by the bushel

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


Growing up in suburban Maryland, Erica Phillips had no farming experience except for an occasional trip to pick strawberries.

During the four years she spent as a political science major at Penn State University, set in the lush farmland of Pennsylvania, agriculture still was not a priority. It was the nearly three years she spent in West Africa with the Peace Corps that proved life-altering.

Now she's among an increasing number of young Mercer County farmers following organic practices to satisfy a growing demand for organics at local farm markets and restaurants.

The time Erica Phillips spent in Africa laid the groundwork for her work toward organic certification for seven acres at Hope-View Farm in Hopewell Township.

The time she spent in Africa laid the groundwork for her work toward organic certification for seven acres at Hope-View Farm in Hopewell Township. With the Peace Corps she learned, then taught, how to maximize crop yields and enrich the soil.

When she returned, Phillips was determined to make a career in farming.

``I came back and searched the Internet for an organic farm where I could apprentice,'' she said.

That search brought her to Spring Hill Farm, also in Hopewell, where fellow Peace Corps alumna Pam Flory was looking for an apprentice. Phillips apprenticed for two seasons, at about the same time farmer Joe Ruggieri was considering changing some of Hope-View's farmland to organic.

Ruggieri had a field that had been planted in pesticide-free hay. That meant it was free of chemicals for the minimum of three years required before organic crops can be planted.

Ruggieri said his customers had been asking for organic produce for several years; hiring Phillips gave him the chance to give them what they want.

``With all the other work I'm doing now, I wouldn't have been able to do it alone'' he said, referring to the more than 85 acres where he grows corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and hay.

Phillips pored over seed catalogs last winter, started seeds indoors and created a planting plan for the seven acres. In April, she moved her beet plants outdoors.

In the weeks that followed, she added turnips, lettuces and herbs. The first crops were harvested last month. Sweet baby beets, turnips, salad mixes, radishes, bok choy, snow peas and broccoli were well received at the farm's stand on East Broad Street and at the Trenton Farmers Market in Lawrence.

``People are delighted,'' said JoAnn Ruggieri, who manages the stand at the Lawrence market. ``Everyone's response has been very positive.''

Hope-View is the first area farm to sell organically grown produce at the Lawrence market, according to director Jack Ball, who said it was good news for the market.

``We get many calls asking if we have organic farmers here, and now we can say yes,'' he said.

Organic farming is labor-intensive, so prices often are higher than that of traditionally farmed crops, with baby lettuces selling for $2.50 for a quarter pound. But JoAnn Ruggeri said she has heard no complaints.

The extra work pays off, Joe Ruggieri said. ``You can see it in the quality.''

Hope-View is one of several Mercer farms pursuing organics.

Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Lawrence will begin selling its crops to the general public at a market today.

A Community Sponsored Agriculture farm, Cherry Grove began delivery to members in recent weeks. Today it opens a Wednesday-afternoon market in the parking lot behind Chamber's Walk Cafe, also in Lawrence.

Like Phillips, Cherry Grove farmer Matt Conver had no interest in farming until he worked on one.

Majoring in environmental studies at East Stroudsburg State University in Pennsylvania, Conver took time off to work on a farm. From there he moved to North Slope Organic Farm in East Amwell, where he stayed five years. ``That's where I learned how to run a farm,'' he said.

In a single year of operation, Cherry Grove's CSA membership jumped from 17 to 50. Conver went from selling at one farmers' market in Summit to two this year by adding the Lawrence site.

``The great thing about this area is that is there is a demand,'' Conver said. ``Everything we can grow we sell.''

Cherry Grove's opening adds another to the growing list of farms selling organically grown vegetables, flowers and fruit to the public, with Hopewell rapidly turning into a small epicenter of organic growth.

Aunt Molly Farm on Aunt Molly Road in the township also sells vegetables, herbs and field crops. Spring Hill on Princeton Avenue has markets on Wednesday afternoons outside Failte Coffee House in Hopewell Borough and Saturdays behind Witherspoon Bread in Princeton Borough.

Spring Hill was created to provide organic produce for Rat's, a restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. But the farming techniques utilized by Flory produced such an abundant crop that Spring Hill opened the Hopewell market two years ago and the Princeton market last month.

Raising organic beef, poultry, eggs and field crops is Simply Grazin' Farm on Van Dyke Road in Hopewell.

Mercer's other CSA farm is Watershed Organic Farm on Wargo Road in Hopewell, which has been selling vegetables, herbs and beef to members for years.

Burlington County has three organic farms, but only 1895 Organic Farm on Landing Street in Southampton is open to the public, selling vegetables, flowers and herbs at a farm stand.

In Hunterdon County, Basil Bandwagon on Back Brook Road in Ringoes sells herbs, vegetables and field crops at a farm stand. In Middlesex, E.R. & Son Farm on Buckelew Avenue in Monroe sells vegetables at a farm stand and a new farm market opened last week in Montgomery.

After years of shunning wilted and unattractive organic vegetables, Americans are increasingly turning to the beautiful produce grown using sustainable farming practices. The organic food business grew nationally by 20 percent annually over the past decade and sales topped $9 billion in 2001.

Hope-View farm was inspected recently and is awaiting official word on certification from Northeast Organic Farming Association New Jersey. They currently offer produce grown using organic practices.

Karen Anderson, executive director of NOFA-NJ, says there has been an increase in the number of farmers seeking information on certification requirements.

``I think it's something everyone is interested in,'' she said.

``It's nice that there are more options for consumers.''

Cherry Grove Organic Farm Market Wednesdays 2 to 6:30 p.m. behind Chamber's Walk Cafe, Lawrenceville. Seasonal organically grown vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Spring Hill Farm markets Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. outside Failte Coffee Shop, Broad Street, Hopewell Borough. Also Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. behind Witherspoon Bread, Witherspoon Streeet, Princeton Borough. Organic produce, flowers and herbs. Hope-View Farm markets Every day outside the farm on East Broad Street in Hopewell Borough. Weekdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Trenton Farmers Market, Spruce Street, Lawrence. Seasonal organically grown produce and flowers.

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