New Jersey Ag News
Cooperative 518 getting six young farmers set
By RICHARD SKELLY
PRINCETON (Nov. 1, 2015) — For those who worry about young people not taking an interest in agriculture, Cooperative 518 in Franklin Township is a group of younger farmers serious about the profession.
In a house with 13 acres adjoining it, live six young farmers including farm manager Alec Gioseffi. Another three or four part-timers come to work on the farm in exchange for produce, eggs and herbs.
While the group of farmers who live together at Cooperative 518 is just beginning the Certified Organic process this fall, Gioseffi studied organic farming practices and principles with Dr. Joseph Heckman at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
He cited Heckman as a major influence, as well as a high school art teacher from the West Windsor-Plainsboro district, Nathan Leventhal.
Gioseffi, a 2012 graduate of the Mason Gross School of the Arts, studied visual arts and photography at Rutgers and took an interest in organic farming through his work as a line cook at restaurants in New Brunswick and Princeton.
He grew up in West Windsor, and credits his parents in giving him an interest in cooking from an early age.
“I was always passionate about food and traveling,” Gioseffi said, “and growing up in West Windsor I was always around a diversity of cultures. So as soon as I was 18, I was working so I could travel and go back-packing through Europe,” he said.
During his frequent travels to foreign countries, Gioseffi learned that in other cultures, people enjoy a more agrarian lifestyle, “where food and enjoying it was more of a cultural act. It used to be that way for us, but now as Americans we eat to feel full and not a lot of people eat dinner around the table anymore or understand where their food is coming from. I was exposed to the other side of it from my travels.
“Here in this suburban, fast-paced Northeast corridor area, there are so many people that are fat and sick,” he said. “Agriculture is agrarian culture, and now it’s not that way in America, it’s a giant industry and we’re pretty separated from it.”
In college, Gioseffi got a job as a cook at Eno Terra off Mapleton Road in the Kingston section of Franklin Township.
“Then after about a year I was able to take a job as co-manager of their two acre farm there, and with that farm we were supplying to Mediterra, Teresa’s Restaurant, both part of the Terra Moma restaurant group. I was able to work with three different chefs from three different restaurants and have a dialogue with them and get a sense for what kinds of vegetables were in demand.”
With the shared goal of starting their own farm, Gioseffi and fiancé Lauren Nagy found the property they now live at and began growing vegetables in September 2013 and for the first seven months, Gioseffi took no salary.
Gioseffi said that Cooperative 518 was “on test pilot” up until August of their first growing season in 2014, but soon after, they began selling produce to Princeton and Hopewell area restaurants.
“Up to August of that first year was the pilot time and we made a lot of mistakes and we learned a lot, and figured things out. Now we’re moving forward and know the direction we’re going in.
“We’re trying to build a self-sustaining system. The farm has its own ecology and has fruits and nuts and vegetables and pigs and chickens and perennials and we’re working on how the people involved facilitate that and have their own niches within the system,” he added.
Next year, Gioseffi said they plan to expand egg production to where they’ll need another person to help and he, Nagy and one other person will be in charge of growing all of our vegetables for their CSA program.
Gioseffi said Nagy oversees the website and much of the management of the CSA program’s finances as well as the Saturday and Sunday farm market which they hold in their driveway from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from late May through mid-November.
In 2014, they had about 20 CSA families who bought into the program.
In 2015 they sold 63 CSA shares, he said, and added a new drop off location at a Highland Park coffee roaster.
Gioseffi estimated Cooperative 518 will have about 200 free range laying hens, eight or 10 pigs, 12 to 15 lambs, and there are plans to get turkeys, guinea hens and geese, too.
Along with farming, Co-op 518 also hosts yoga classes, farm tours, potluck dinners and educational workshops.
The bottom line, he stressed, “is we want to make our community more involved in what we’re doing. For me, I’d rather grow food for my neighbor across the street instead of some elite class that can afford to go in and have a $55 entree at a restaurant. I mean, that’s fine and it has a place. If it wasn’t for that industry we wouldn’t be able to do this because that’s how we started out, selling mainly to restaurants.”
Gioseffi said CSA customers like the excitement of the shared risk involved in such an undertaking and check in for updates on weather and pest-related problems when picking up their weekly shares of produce.
This year, groundhogs wiped out the spinach and Brussel sprouts patch, but he said that won’t happen next year.
He credited Heckman’s classes at Rutgers and the ability to call him or e-mail him for advice along the way as most helpful.
“He was a huge inspiration for me and he’s also on the board with NOFA- New Jersey. He’s filled with knowledge and resources and makes himself accessible.”
While checking on things around the farm, Gioseffi said he and his partners at Co-op 518 are “trying to build a culture around the farm and put culture back in agriculture.
“I also strongly believe in positive intention,” he said, “that is, if you’re putting a lot of energy into something and are willing to work towards it, a lot of times you end up getting what you want.”