Top Story, March 1, 2015
Niche poultry proving to be a Rude awakening
By RICHARD SKELLY
To be sure, George Rude, founder of what used to be known as the Griggstown Quail Farm, knows a few things about managing growth.
That, combined with an unflappable, seven-day-a-week work ethic and the support of his immediate family, has allowed him to grow his business from a small quail-raising operation in 1975 to what it is today: A flourishing livestock business and retail farm market operation that supplies chickens and baby chickens, to many major metropolitan area restaurants.
In his day-to-day activities at Griggstown Farm, Rude works closely with his son, George Jr., his wife, Joan, a retired elementary school teacher from the Hillsborough district, and his brother Peter, who runs the chicken processing operations, as well as 24 full-time employees.
Interestingly, Rude Sr. had no background in farming, just a longtime passion for hunting, which led to raising quail there in 1975, a few years after he’d returned from military service in Vietnam.
Sitting in the employee luncheon area in a cordoned-off section of the farm’s immaculate, 5,000 square foot kitchen with his son, Rude Sr. said: “About 18 years ago we got involved with chickens and poussins, (baby chickens, weighing 16 to 20 ounces,) and now, that’s our specialty, that’s our niche. Every farm needs a niche, and that’s the trick with farming in New Jersey, it’s just too hard to do and too expensive otherwise. We’ve got 24 employees and a USDA processing plant, we do 10 farmer’s markets during the season and we ship all over the country.”
Rude Sr.’s background in the construction business, prior to starting his own quail farm — which would morph into a beef cattle farm and to what it is today, raising all manner of poultry — certainly has helped keep costs down with the construction of 18 livestock and storage barns that sit on the 70-acre tract. He built most of the barns himself with small construction crews. In 2008, Rude Sr. sold his development rights to the land with the State of New Jersey.
“Preserving the farmland put a nice chunk of change in the bank and it’s still there,” he explained matter-of-factly, “and if I died, my ashes would get spread out here. It will always be a farm, that’s why my son is here and my brother is here.”
The Griggstown Farm Market retail store opened a week before Sept. 11, 2001, the father and son recalled, and at that point, their kitchen was only 600 square feet, which was expanded in 2010.
Asked if he ever had a business plan for the Griggstown Farm and the accompanying market, Rude Sr. answered with an emphatic “No. I do what I do.” He admitted to taking out a small mortgage to purchase and build his new state-of-the-art 5,000 square foot kitchen, complete with several large, walk-in freezers and separate food preparation areas.
“My philosophy is, I shave every morning, so every day I see the person who makes the mistakes. Through the years I’d take my money and put it back into the company and my company alone, no outside investments,” he said, “so there’s only person who makes mistakes and I’ve always put everything I make right back into the company.”
George Jr. lives 10 minutes away, George Sr. and his wife Joan live across Bunker Hill Road from the farm and brother Peter also lives nearby. Collectively, they can respond to weather-related emergencies or other urgent matters as they crop up, as is necessary in managing any livestock operation.
Asked about his seven-day-a-week work commitment, after he took much of the month of January off to relax and go hunting, Rude Sr., a spry man of 65, says simply: “Farmers don’t retire, they die. You have to do this seven days a week when you have livestock, milk cows are the same way, you have to check in on them and feed them every day.” So either Rude Sr. or Jr. is checking on the quail, pheasant, turkeys, chickens and baby chickens every day, to say nothing of the large vegetable patch they tend to in-season. Asked about the future of the farm in George Jr.’s hands, Rude said he’s not worried in the least about what may happen after he’s gone. His son knows the operation inside and out, he said, having been working there ever since he was old enough to put in full days on the farm.
“Any farm can go anywhere it wants to go, it all depends on how much you want to work,” Rude Sr. said.