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New Directions

Top Story, Sept. 1, 2015


Pittenger Farms offers folks a place to meat this month

 

By TAMARA SCULLY
AFP Correspondent

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Sussex County —
The day is winding down at 5 p.m., as cars begin to arrive at L.L. Pittenger Farms.
There are also families walking, and children on bicycles, coming from the housing development across the street.
Local contractor trucks pull in, joining the small parade of people heading for the field alongside the barn.
The mobile pizza oven from Lucca Pizza is in place and warmed-up, the musician is doing a sound check, and large, long tables, complete with hay bales and planks as benches, are in rows.
The hay wagon quietly awaits young visitors.
But the real reason for all of this is under the canopy: the L.L. Pittenger Farms mobile market, where freezers of USDA retail cuts of meat await sale.
Beef, pork, chicken, lamb and turkey, directly from the farm, raised naturally, without hormones or antibiotics and fed feedstuffs grown on the farm, or from other local providers, is the reason for all the fuss.
Farmer Lou Tommaso has been raising livestock for over a decade.
He was among the first of the local farmers to move away from custom-slaughtered freezer sides, navigating the USDA regulations for selling meat by the retail cut, and assisting many of the others who now benefit from his work clarifying the rules, and pioneering their implementation here in northwestern New Jersey.
Tommaso is routinely found at farmers’ markets near and further afoot, year-round, bringing his meat to market. He has slowly earned a reputation for quality, collecting customers who appreciate his attention to detail and passion for his work.
But there has consistently been one market which has been a bit more difficult to enter: that of his immediate neighbors in the township.
Over the years, he has attempted to join together with other local farmers to distribute flyers, run a mail campaign and promote local Green Township area farm products.
The result, until today: One or two customers from within the community, who have purchased meats on a regular, ongoing basis.
Today, the inaugural season of casual family dining on the farm has given other neighbors a reason to come out to the fields, meet with the farmer, and learn how the animals here are raised.
The renowned pizza, from a wood-fired oven, and-topped with all local ingredients, including a variety of L.L. Pittenger Farms meats and local produce and cheeses, is one way to entice new customers to taste the meat, purchase some to try at home, and come back as regular customers.
Aside from farmers’ markets, Tommaso has tried participating with online farmers markets and buying clubs, too, with varied success.
Tommaso also sells directly off the farm, with a small sales outlet onsite.
It isn’t staffed, and doesn’t have regular hours, but a quick phone call to Tomasso’s cell phone, which is advertised on all their materials, and customers can shop here, or have their order ready for pickup.
L.L. Pittenger Farms is now renting space for their meat freezers at several other farm stands. Best’s Fruit Farm in Hackettstown, Godlewsky’s Farm Market in Great Meadows, Tranquillity Farm in Allamuchy and Race’s Farm in Blairstown all proudly offer his meats in their farm markets.
Sales have steadily increased over the past several years, increasing L.L. Pittenger Farm’s reach within the local communities.
Tommaso operates on 55 owned and 200 leased acres of land, primarily on several parcels along Creek Road.
His 55 head pastured beef herd are bred on the farm, and raised on grass.
They are supplemented for a few weeks of “finishing,” when they are also offered corn silage, grown on the farm, alongside their pasture grazing.
This bit of grain — corn silage is somewhere around 98 percent grass, with only the kernels being grain — adds some marbling and fat, which Tommaso is adamant enhances the flavor over strictly grass-fed and finished animals.
The grain his animals receive is minimal, all-natural, and homegrown, and offered for a short time before slaughter.
Tommaso purchases 10 Berkshire pigs from a local farm each month, finishing and processing them.
Pigs have indoor/outdoor barn access, and eat lots of vegetable scraps along with their locally-grown feed.
Chickens are raised in chicken tractors, via the Joel Salatin method, and moved to fresh grass several times a day.
The farm processes 2,000 meat birds per year. Sheep are bred here, but lambs are also purchased locally to supplement the herd.
Turkeys were added to the farm last season, and 100 egg layers now call this home.
Tommaso also buys eggs from other local farmers, in order to meet the demand at farmers’ markets.
“The local community is really coming out to the farm for these dinners,” Tommaso said. “We’ve got families from the development, and neighbors meeting up in large groups to eat pizza and spend the evening enjoying the music and the hay ride, and just being out on the farm.”
He’s also had a good response from customers in Morristown and Summit, where he is a farmers’ market vendor, and as far away as Elizabeth.
But as the season has progressed, the portion of local folks dining on pizzas, and hoping aboard the 13 minute hay wagon ride for a cruise around the farm fields, has increased.
Although the farm’s animals are not pastured on this portion of the farm, Tommaso has plans to add animals to the barnyard area here, so that visitors can see the animals, and hopefully be encouraged to ask more questions and become educated about how they are raised.
The dinners are all about community, connecting the dots between the livestock raised here and the meat put on the dinner table every night in local homes.
This meat is not commodity meat. It is different than the meat from the grocery store.
Not only are the animals raised, and complete their lives on the farm, they are slaughtered and processed locally, at small facilities under humane conditions for both animals and workers.
It’s meat outside of the large processors’ grasp, raised naturally on the farm from start to finish.
The land on which it is raised keeps open space and rural living possible, and provides healthy food, sold directly in the surrounding communities.
When the sun sets, and it’s time to go, visitors have a renewed appreciation for the beauty, and the food, which a farm such as L.L Pittenger Farms produces.
And that will, hopefully, translate into meat sales, to keep this farm a viable, important part of the community.
L.L Pittenger Farms dinners will continue every Wednesday evening through the end of September, weather permitting. Lucca Pizza’s Facebook page has updates: https://www.facebook.com/luccawoodfiredoven
The farm is also a part of the Tour de Farms New Jersey, Warren County ride, on Sept. 19.
For more information, visit www.tourdefarmnj.com.