May 1, 2019

Princeton’s Agricultural History Is Told in Newly-Designed Garden

EVERY BED TELLS A STORY: At the Garden State History Garden opening Sunday, May 19 at the Historical Society of Princeton’s Updike Farmstead, Princeton’s agricultural history is being reinterpreted, bed by bed. An app, which visitors can listen to while wandering the garden, tells its stories.

By Anne Levin

On a 520-square-foot site where a chicken coop used to be, the Historical Society of Princeton (HSP) is about to unveil a newly-designed garden that interprets the area’s important agricultural history. The Garden State History Garden opens officially on Sunday, May 19, and the public is invited.

The HSP just happens to be headquartered at the Updike Farmstead, a former working farm on Quaker Road. The interpretive garden is a natural for the site, which was already producing organic fruits and vegetables as the Sipprelle Unity Garden, donated when the HSP first renovated the site in 2012.

“We have this gorgeous, 21-bed organic garden with raised beds that produce quite a bounty each year that we donate to Cornerstone Community Kitchen,” said Izzy Kasdin, the HSP’s executive director. “We have had it for awhile, but it didn’t feel like a heritage-rich thing.”

During the recent installation of interpretive signage at the farm, Kasdin and her colleagues decided to take the concept further. “We were interested in transforming the farmstead into a history campus museum, with historical context inside and out,” she said. “We thought that instead of planting a reproduced kitchen garden from the past, we would create something a little more metaphorical, if you will. Each bed will grow a crop that will be the launching pad for a story, and those stories will be accessible on our app.”

So tomatoes, for instance, will tell the story of the canning industry. Other produce-inspired topics include farm labor, the women’s land army during World War I, and social welfare in the 19th century. “Agriculture is core to the historical identity of Princeton, and sparks important discussion about land use, food security, and the environment today,” Kasdin said in a press release. “We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to tell those stories here at Updike Farmstead, in view of one of the last remaining intact historic farms in Princeton.”

Support from the Church & Dwight Employee Giving Fund was instrumental in the garden’s transformation.

Billed as family-friendly, the grand opening will be held from 1-4 p.m. and include several activities. There will be a garden craft for children, a scavenger hunt around the property, and time to explore the garden and newly-launched app content. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch or snack.

At 2 p.m., a screening of Farming in New Jersey’s Millstone Valley: Past and Present will take place in the Wojciechowicz Barn. The 35-minute video documentary, produced by the Millstone River Valley Preservation Coalition of Rocky Hill (MVP) in association with the Van Harlingen Historical Society of Montgomery, describes the 300-year agricultural history of the area. MVP Coalition president Brad Fay will introduce the film, and a panel discussion will follow featuring Pam Mount of Terhune Orchards; Tessa Lowinske Desmond, a Princeton University research scholar in the Program in American Studies; and Fay.

The Wojciechowicz Barn was renovated by Baxter Construction in 2017, and the firm recently won the National Contractor of the Year Award in Commercial Specialty from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for the project. The barn was built by the Updike family in 1892, after they moved to the 200-acre farm. Nearly all of the wood was preserved during the renovation. The HSP moved from Bainbridge House on Nassau Street to the farm in 2014.

Though May 19 is early in growing season and the garden won’t be in full bloom, Kasdin is looking forward to launching the new interpretive content and familiarizing the public with the site.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to capture all of these different stories,” she said. “Agriculture is such a big part of Princeton’s historical identity.”