The Cherry Valley Cooperative Farm is approximately a year old. Its creators were fortunate to find a potential owner who was interested in supporting their plan to create a community-based food hub supplying both local restaurants and residents with fresh, local food – but also offering other services and activities.
This novel approach, conceived by the farm’s lead creator Alec Gioseffi, was to instead of approaching the seven township departments separately, invite them all to visit and tour the farm together. This accelerated the permitting process considerably.
Alec grew up in Plainsboro, went to high school there and then to Rutgers, where he studied visual arts, photography and agriculture/ecology. While going to school, he worked at various local restaurants and doing catering at Rutgers, often moving up to chef. Following college, he was able to visit Europe, sample its cuisines, and to work on a Kibbutz in Israel and on a Shtetl in Ukraine, where he saw that the agrarian lifestyle was possible.
Working in Eno Terra’s kitchen, he learned of its nearby farm providing the restaurant’s fresh produce. He moved over to work at that farm, and in 2013 became a co-manager. Needing more acreage, the operation moved to a 10-acre farm in Franklin Township.
The new cooperative participants found they had much to do — not only renovating and adapting the existing buildings, but building new ones and communicating with Montgomery Townships jurisdictional offices. Once that was accomplished, Alec, his wife Lauren, and other participants saw that they would need a number of partners utilizing the acreage and buildings in order to make the coop financially viable.
Lauren and Alec concentrate on vegetables; another partner, Chris, focuses on Forest mushrooms propagation; Lauren and Samuel do yoga and meditation. Local artist, Peter Abrams, tends to the sheep, pigs, and 600 chickens. Aside from dividing up the areas of work, this also spreads the risk, as participants become partners, sharing in costs, risks, and profits.
The co-op supplies fresh food to the Terra Momo Restaurant Group, to the Brick Farm Market and Tavern, and to the Whole Earth Center. Approximately 150 local families buy portions of the farm’s produce, and 7,000 people are on the co-op’s mailing list, keeping them abreast of food offerings and activities.
To further connect the communities and nature, and to generate income, the co-op offers nature classes for children and farming experience for young adults. Currently it is building housing for those working on the farm.
Education is yet another guiding principle and goal. Practical courses are offered at the co-op, including: chainsaw maintenance, foraging, outdoor movement, fermentation and preservation workshops, greenhouse propagation, and simply the opportunity to learn about local agriculture.
In short, the over-arching idea is to integrate nature and community farming into an ecological-sensitive entity. The co-op members see this as a means to help bring people back in touch with the nature around them and with the food they eat, in its most healthy forms.
For its concepts and efforts, it has won local support and interest, as people see that it is to the benefit of all that we preserve and improve the interface between man and nature.