May 22, 2019

New Jersey’s Agricultural History Could Be a Tourism Magnet

By Anne Levin

At the Historical Society of Princeton’s Updike Farmstead last Sunday, a garden designed to interpret the state’s agricultural history was officially opened to the public. As part of the festivities, there was a screening of the film Farming in New Jersey’s Millstone Valley: Past and Present, and a panel discussion on the growing number of women involved in farming across the state.

For Brad Fay, who made the documentary and assembled the panel, last Sunday’s event was a step toward recognition of New Jersey’s importance in the area of “agritourism.”

“As a marketing person, I have become aware of how great a need there is to tell our agricultural story better,” said Fay, a Griggstown resident who heads the marketing and consulting firm Stepping Stone Strategies. “New York state has invested highly in promoting its Finger Lakes region and the Hudson Valley, for New Yorkers looking for a weekend getaway in the country. We have beautiful places that are closer to the city, and we need to market them.”

While New Jersey spends some $9 million a year on tourism marketing, most of which is aimed at the Jersey Shore and the Meadowlands, New York puts $15 million “just into agritourism,” Fay said. “We are just sort of unilaterally disarming ourselves. We need to seriously promote this part of our identity.”

Agriculture plays a significant role not just in New Jersey’s history, but also in its future, Fay believes. There is a lot more farmland available than most people realize. Fay’s mission is to create a bigger market for those who farm and the restaurants that patronize them.

“I spent 30 years doing opinion research, market research, and consulting,” Fay said. “Doing all that, I learned about the power of storytelling. For most of these farms and beverage makers and restaurants, part of what makes them so valuable is the story behind them. You go to Terhune Orchards because you know some of their story. People want that experience, that connection with a family, a farm, and healthy food. And Updike Farm, too, has a wonderful story to tell.”

Among the panelists at the Updike Farm event were Pam Mount of Terhune; along with Stephanie Harris of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey; Tessa Lowinski Desmond, who teaches at Princeton University and has a farm in Hopewell Township; and Maia Saito, of the Cherry Valley Cooperative. “They talked about what their passions are in agriculture, and how things have changed over the years,” said Fay.

The most recent survey released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists 40 percent more women running farms. Fay said the figure is partly due to a changed methodology that allows farms to list more than one owner. Nevertheless, there are more women running farms than in the recent past. “Hunterdon County has more women farmers than any other county in New Jersey or New York,” Fay said.

After several years involved in preservation efforts in Montgomery and the Millstone Valley Coalition, Fay “fell into” making the documentary Farming in New Jersey’s Millstone Valley: Past and Present. The film premiered at the Princeton Garden Theatre last year, to a sold-out crowd.

Encouraged by the positive reception, Fay is continuing his efforts to promote central New Jersey’s leading farmers, restaurateurs, beverage-makers, and businesses with a new website, Among the local businesses featured on the site are Terhune Orchards, the Momo Restaurant Group, Brick Farm Market and Tavern, and Chauncey Hotel and Conference Center.

“My hope is that this will become an important driver in the interest people are taking in what we have to offer,” Fay said. “I want to create a bigger market for what we have.”