April 8, 2020

Klett Brothers Establish Fairgrown Farm, Offering Seasonal Produce for the Community

FARM FRESH: “We grow an assortment of organic vegetables, and we are also planting blueberries and strawberries this year. In addition, we have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm share program.” Owners and brothers Alex, left, and James Klett of Fairgrown Farm In Hopewell are shown with their special vintage Industrial Harvester tractor, with back hoe and front loader.

By Jean Stratton

Better Food, Better Lives” — this is the mission of brothers James and Alex Klett, who established Fairgrown Farm in 2018. Its eight acres on Aunt Molly Road in Hopewell produce organic seasonal produce for the surrounding community.

“We are committed to growing great-tasting food that is healthy and safe,” explains James Klett, who is farm manager and head farmer. “Our farm is in the process of being certified as USDA Certified Organic. Although we are not yet officially certified, we comply completely with the organic principles, often going above and beyond what is required of an organic farm. You can be assured that everything we grow is safe and healthy for your family.”

There is no question that farming is one of the most challenging — and, of course, essential — occupations one can undertake. Both James and Alex, who is operations manager and charged with keeping the machines and equipment in good working order, know they are in the right profession.

Turning Point

“I love doing this work and being outdoors,” says James, “I have a passion for farming, for the outdoors, and also for chemistry. All of this comes together here. I learn a lot about microbiology!”

Although he had always liked gardening, he had not planned to become a farmer. He was set to attend Rutgers University and major in business. Then, as a summer job, he worked on a farm, and it was a turning point in his life. As he says, “I found I really enjoyed being outside, and I fell in love with farming.”

After graduating from Rutgers with a business major and agriculture minor, he, along with Alex, was able to lease the farm on Aunt Molly Road. As James notes, “Alex is great with machines and carpentry, and he wanted to be part of this too. He likes the hands-on aspect. And I’m good at growing things, so we’re good team.”

The farm grows a wide assortment of vegetables, including tomatoes — heirloom and cherry — garlic, squash, spinach, onions, eggplant, beans, and lettuce, among many others, and all of which grow well in New Jersey. In addition, they are now growing blueberries and strawberries.

Growing organic crops presents its own set of challenges, and the Klett brothers use a series of natural methods with regard to fertilization, irrigation, and pests.

“We deal with pests with organic natural sprays, and we try to promote predators and pollinators,” explains James. “Ladybugs are predators that eat aphids, and bees are pollinators. We also reduce tillage, and use organic fertilizers. These are tried and true organic practices. In addition, we use drip irrigation, and water just the roots.”

Crop Rotation

“Also, crop rotation is very important,” adds James. “One year, we’ll grow tomatoes in one field, and the next year a different crop there. For example, one year you plant tomatoes, the next year in that field, you’ll plant lettuce, then squash, and then back to tomatoes. Every year, you’re growing a new crop. It gives the soil a chance to rest, and it diminishes the pests. Diversified crops and crop rotation are the ways to manage pests.”

The first crops should be ready at the end of May, reports James, and others throughout the summer. “We expect the blueberries in June, July, and August” he says. “Blueberries like acidic soil, and we have that.”

It is a source of great pride when the crops appear after the initial hard work. “There is an immense amount of satisfaction when we harvest the crops. When you hold a tomato in your hand, it’s a great feeling. We have helpers in the summer for the harvesting, but I do most of the work, and all the planting.”

As if one farm were not enough to keep them busy, the brothers have also leased a second, Gravity Hill Farm, in Titusville. As James explains, “Since part of the farm’s mission is to support the local food system, one-fifth of all produce grown at Gravity Hill Farm will be donated to Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, a nonprofit headquartered at the farm. Then it ultimately makes its way into local food banks. Additionally, we will be farming one acre just for Rolling Harvest, where 100 percent of its production is donated.”

Fairgrown Farm also provides produce for a number of area restaurants, including the Whole Earth Center, Nomad Pizza, and Blue Bottle, among others.

In addition, the farm is the main vendor for the Hopewell Farmers Market (which it founded), and which is expected to be open every Sunday after May 31. The farm also supplies produce for the Montgomery Farmers Market.

Nice Variety

Another part of the business is the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm Share Program, offering opportunities for area residents to purchase fresh produce throughout the growing season.

As James points out, “Customers pay for the season, and we deliver a box of fresh produce once a week for 20 weeks. It’s a nice variety, with 20 to 25 different items. We deliver within an 8-mile area on Monday or Tuesday. This is a very popular program, and we look forward to expanding it.”

In addition, there are market shares for the farm market. Customers pay in advance, and receive a credit, which can then be used at the market.

The challenges of farming, whether they be excessive heat, rain, drought, or pests, are very real and forever present. The Klett brothers have not been deterred by these obstacles, and providing fresh, healthy food for the community overrides the hardships.

“We really started the farm with nothing,” they note. “We had to do everything — establish the fields, prepare the soil, get the equipment, and even build a storage structure. It was completely hands-on.

“We’ve had great support from the community. We have so many customers who are passionate about what we do and who love the fresh produce. They really care about this. We are looking forward to our 2020 season, and we expect a good season.”

Local Agriculture

An added factor, and one they could not have anticipated, is the current COVID-19 pandemic. It has made everything they do even more important. As James observes, “When you purchase produce from a large grocery store, it has already been touched by countless people as it made its way through the supply chain. Much of this food is shipped thousands of miles from foreign countries. Not only is this food less sanitary (as many past contaminations like E. coli have shown), but its supply is at risk if borders start to shut down, and transportation becomes more difficult. During the Great Depression, often, farmers would have enough food to feed people, but couldn’t transport it to where it was needed — so people went hungry.

“I mention all this because as the world starts to shut down, it puts a spotlight on the importance of local agriculture. Our crops go straight from the field into your kitchen, and don’t constantly change hands. It is more sanitary.

“We are literally right down the street from most of our customers, so that even if borders close, we are still able to feed people. We offer free delivery so you don’t need to expose yourself to large groups of people when shopping. And maybe most important, healthy, nutritious food promotes a strong immune system to defend against these sorts of viruses. My uncle Ted Klett put it best when he said: ‘No Local Farmers, No Food Security.’”

Indeed, in these anxious times when everyone is trying to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis, knowing that Fairgrown Farm is there, offering fresh and healthy produce, is a reminder that there are always certainties — such as the farm — that we can count on. And this is a sign of hope for the future. We will get through this.

For more information about the farm and the farm share program, call (609) 731-6063 and you can speak directly with Farmer James. Visit the website at www.fairgrownfarm.com.