When you hear Harvest, Cook, & Dine, you might think that its only for those passionate about farming. Not true! In our group of 24, there were people from all walks of life. So whether you’re more comfortable in a polo or with a pitchfork, this is an event you should experience. This “pick your own” meets “cooking class” meets “farm to table dinner” is an amazing interactive experience unlike any other in New Jersey. The event, hosted by Donaldson Farms on their farmland set amongst the rolling hills of Hackettstown, NJ, gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with one of the coolest farms in the Garden State.
When we arrived we were greeted warmly by the duo behind Donaldson Farms’ growing operation: Greg and Katie Donaldson. It was a special night, Katie shared with us, as Greg would usually still be working out in the fields, but had finished up his chores early enough to join us on that day! So we all had the pleasure of getting to hear first hand from farmer Greg the history of his family farm. What started as a 114-acre dairy, potato and hay farm has now turned into a 500-acre idyllic fruit and vegetable farm.
After the entire group arrived, we were ready to board the hayride wagon and travel through the fields to cut our own broccoli, cantaloupe and cherry tomatoes. It was during this ride we got to learn all about Donaldson Farms’ unique and pioneering methods of growing, especially with regards to apples and cucumbers. The Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station considers them a model farm – and not just in regards to the methods they use! What I found interesting is that Donaldson Farms is considered a strong model for how family farms should run and operate. The farm has thrived due to their structure that divides overall management responsibilities between three separate businesses, each spearheaded by a Donaldson brother.
While not an organic farm, they do embrace many organic farming practices and even go beyond what is currently practiced by some organic farmers, ensuring the most nutritious and sustainable fruits and veg. They use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which controls insects and other pests while minimally affecting the environment.
The time and effort this family farm puts in to doing things right is evident in the taste and quality of their produce. Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Champion and local Chef Eric LeVine (more on him later) created a menu that allowed us to incorporate the broccoli, cantaloupe and cherry tomatoes we had earlier picked as components of an amazing meal.
On the menu was:
- Cantaloupe with a squeeze of lime and salt
- Tender green salad
- Thinly sliced tri-color potatoes cooked on the grill in foil packets with garlic scapes (prepared by us)
- Zucchini, broccoli, cherry tomato, corn and shallot summer succotash (prepared by us)
- Marinated Sirloin Steak (prepared by us)
- Chocolate Ganache cake with Trio of Mousse & Textures
Chef Eric was entertaining and I even learned a few things – like not to use black pepper on things like chicken and fish (you want to use white pepper) and he even got me enjoying the broccoli stalk which I usually discard (I know… shame on me!) We cooked the steaks and potatoes on some impressive MONSTER grills – so much fun.
Thank you to the Donaldsons for making us feel like a part of their family for the night. It’s so inspiring to see all of the hard work that goes into feeding a community. And they were total pros at hosting our group – the entire night went off without a hitch.
If you’re in Northern New Jersey—or not, its worth the trip!—stop by for one of their festive events like their Summer Nights On The Farm, Harvest Fest, or just to “Pick Your Own” … because everything is handpicked on the farm, why not give them a hand? 😉
PS – there are a few Harvest, Cook, & Dine events left out of this eight week culinary series:
Wednesday, August 31st
Sides: Mixed Greens Salad
Main: Soft Shell Crabs, Potato, Corn
Dessert: Orange Cake with Cheesecake Mousse
BYOB Wine Suggestions: Chardonnay or Pinot Noir
Wednesday, September 7th
Sides: Mixed Greens Salad
Main: Salmon & Shrimp, Eggplant, Tomato
Dessert: S’mores Cup