RIVER FRIENDLY FARM CERTIFIED IN
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
RUTHIE’S FARM, RIVER VALLEY COMMUNITY GRAINS AND
We are all interconnected
Back in the 1970’s my family purchased the farm that backs the village of Marksboro in Frelinghuysen Township. This land has been actively farmed for generations. Over time, the land was farmed less for food, and more for feed, and the farming practices included use of chemically treated seed and soil treatments that we now know are highly destructive to the health of our soil and water.
In 2016 when I decided to take a more active role in the management of our restaurant Ruthie’s BBQ and Pizza in Montclair N.J., I finally took the opportunity to get more involved in what was grown at the farm. Farm to Table dining is extremely popular, and we were unique in that we had our own farm and a restaurant. We decided to name the farm Ruthie’s Farm and I started growing organic produce on the hay field that was never chemically treated. The farmer was still growing small grain for feed on the remaining fields. One day my husband asked while looking at the Rye – why can’t we grow wheat for our own flour? That’s when the light went off in my mind, and not long after I was introduced to River Valley Community Grains. They emerged out of a project introduced by Genesis Farms known as Restoring the Musconetcong River Valley, which itself began as an intention to restore the soils, waters, farms, and sacredness of the River Valley. Growing nutrient rich regional grains naturally became the mission to restore the health of the land and communities, and importantly provide a new economic opportunity for growers in the region. Ancient grains are a beloved product of the growing number of artisan bakers everywhere, and the availability of this product locally is scarce if next to none. As I learned more about this agricultural potential, all I saw was promise. A way to farm that would heal the soil and community, and a product of value that would reward the grower. With the guidance of their agronomist, we started growing wheat naturally on my farm in 2017.
We had a very successful 1st harvest of Winter Wheat – and what became apparent to us all is if we really wanted to commit to this, we would need to build an infrastructure. River Valley Community Grains – the millers – were working out of a temporary space in Long Valley, and they needed a centralized location close to farms with excellent access. In the village, directly across the street from my farm sat Cappy’s, once a bustling farm equipment repair site which now sat vacant. In 2020 we closed on the property, and it is now in the final phases of construction. Marksboro Mills will not only be the home of River Valley Community Grains, but also agricultural hub and mercantile.
The beauty of this location; it is in the historic village where the grain is being grown. Not only is it convenient – it is demonstrative. Our mission gained the attention of Montclair Community Farms and they’re The Empowering Youth Entrepreneurs from Seed to Sale program which received funding from the USDA with a particular focus on small grain production and vocational opportunities. The students in their program are instructed on the growing, processing and end use of whole grains. In support of their work, Marksboro Mills is including a demonstration kitchen where students can not only learn about the growing and processing of the grain, but also the end use with baking classes. The location is approved for retail sales and small-scale food production. In addition to being an educational site for students and public, it will also provide a historical narrative of the history of small grains in this region, which is rich, dating back to the earliest indigenous peoples of the region.
In addition to the milling, retail and educational opportunities, there is a home on the location - once the original schoolhouse of the village, which has been beautifully restored to hopefully be the home of our future Farm Manager. We envision the Farm manager as an integral part of developing heritage grain growing in Warren County as there are many opportunities and land available throughout the County perfectly viable for grain growing. We hope to see this Farmer as a source for other growers in the region to learn how to convert their conventional feed farms to healthy non-GMO heritage grains.
And of course – this space is a work in progress. There is additional space for craftsmen and creatives. Our restaurant in Montclair, Ruthie’s BBQ and Pizza is a much-loved community space for food and music, and we look forward to sharing the connectivity our establishment has provided to Western NJ. We are not looking to opening a franchise, but rather a fresh model. One that connects community with tasty food, knowledge of where our food comes from, how to protect our resources and provide a strong economic reason for doing so and enjoying it all along the way. There are ideas of music and gatherings that can heal us all as we come together around the basics of all that fuels us. Food, Earth, Community.