Margaret Noon is putting in tomatoes this week, some 1000 plants that she coaxed from seed, heirlooms including Brandywines, Rutgers tomatoes, black cherries and more.
The spring has been unseasonably cold; she and her neighboring farmers can’t remember a colder spring. Remember that day it snowed in May? Remember that day of hailstones? Noon checks the forecast, keeping an eye on the hourly temperature overnight. If it’s too cold for too many hours, the tomatoes won’t survive.
Farming always comes with its risks, but this year Covid-19 presents an existential threat to small farmers statewide. The virus has shut down restaurants (which buy farm-fresh produce) and limits the number of customers at farmers’ markets. Many small farms hope to attract enough CSA customers to survive.
Noon, who earned a prestigious Local Hero award from Edible Jersey magazine in 2015, operates School Lunch Farm in Mount Olive. She was honored both for her commitment to the integrity of the ingredient and for her charity work – she donates an average of 10,000 pounds of fresh produce each season to local pantries, schools and agencies with people in need.
Noon farms six half-acre plots, and all her produce is certified organic. “You can grow a tremendous amount of food in a small area,” she says.
Noon is deeply saddened by the staggering loss of life in New Jersey and concerned about the uncertainty of the farm season, yet she is glad to be able to spend her days in the field.
“I’m not a person who uses the word ‘grateful,’ a lot, but I’m am grateful I have this farm at this time. I have a lot of friends who are depressed.
“It’s really great to be here, doing something positive.”
Some New Jersey farms are experiencing an increase in demand for their CSA programs. Customers are eager to support local businesses, and a weekly CSA box is full of fresh, local – and healthy – produce. Plus customers feel reassured in knowing that their produce has been handled by only a few people.
This year was supposed to be a new beginning for Noon. She had put her CSA on hold last year. She had to have her hip replaced, and wasn’t sure she could meet the commitment. She feared she’d be crawling on the ground to complete the harvest. Her surgery was more successful than she imaged. This year, as she turns 60, she feels invigorated. Noon spends 10 hours a day in the field, and remains committed to the farm, which is in its 10th year.
“The hip surgery gave me my life back,” she says.
Note: Joining a CSA supports a local business, a critical commitment during these times. School Lunch Farm CSA memberships are available now; for more information go to schoollunchfarm.com or call 908-451-0051. The farm provides certified organic produce, which is handled by a maximum of three sets of gloved hands (compared to supermarket produce, which can be handled by up to 250 pairs of hands). Produce from lettuce to broccoli are harvested the day you receive them. Contactless weekly pick-up is available at locations in Maplewood, Morristown, Montville, and Mount Olive/Hackettstown.