New Jersey’s reputation as the Garden State dates to at least 1781 when a French military officer passing through Central Jersey described in his diary the “beauty of the country, which everywhere corresponds with the reputation of the Jerseys, called the garden of America.” His journey ultimately took him to Yorktown, VA where American and French troops won American independence from Britain on October 19th.
More than two centuries later, travelers with more modest missions can still enjoy the beauty and the bounty of the Garden State, a region that remains a “best kept secret,” barely an hour’s journey from both New York City and Philadelphia. By train, car, or bus, Central Jersey is one of the most accessible agricultural areas in America. At DiscoverCentralNJ.com you’ll find farms and orchards to please everyone, including families, friends, young couples, and seniors.
Before or after your farm visit, be sure to partake of our local craft beverage makers. Somerset County has just launched an autumn season passport for its Sip & See Somerset tour that combines breweries, distilleries, and cideries with notable farm and foliage locations. Hunterdon County Beer Trail is another great opportunity to enjoy goodness from “the other side of New Jersey.”
One Central Jersey town that “has it all” is Hopewell Borough, nestled in the Sourland Mountains, a great place for hiking, bicycling, local food, and craft beverages. Enjoy lunch at the Brick Farm Market and dinner at the Brick Farm Tavern; visit New Jersey’s first on-farm Distillery, Sourland Mountan Spirits; Shop at a unique bicycle shop, Sourland Cycles. Hopewell also offers one of the first harvest fairs of the season, on September 17.
Our favorite on-farm harvest festivals can be found at these farms, listed in order of opening weekend:
- Norz-Hill Farm is celebrating its centennial year, having been owned by the same family since 1922 in Hillsborough. Their Family Fun Fall Festivals start September 10 and run through October 31. Enjoy hay wagon rides, a corn maze, u-pick pumpkin patch, Kids’ Corner, and a food stand. They also offer Scare Farm, a popular Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nighttime experience during the Halloween season.
- Terhune Orchards and Winery, near Princeton, is the region’s agritourism leader, inviting thousands of visitors every year to a 200-acre family-owned and operated farm. Starting September 17, autumn brings Terhune’s Fall Family Weekends, with live music, pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, pumpkin painting, pedal tractors, wagon rides, corn stalk maze, adventure barn, and a barnyard of farm animals. Admission discounts are offered for advance purchase. This year they are also offering an art contest focused on their century old “wine orchard” trees, with judging on September 30.
- Snyder Farm in the Somerset section of Franklin Township offers a family-oriented Farm Festival weekends starting October 1 through the 23rd. Activities include hayrides, giant chair, corn maze, hay bale activities, climbing tunnels, wooden train, corn hole games, hay bale activity center and more. General admission of $15 (under 2 free) is required for pumpkin picking, plus cost of pumpkin.
Though not offering festivals, many other Central Jersey farms offer a bounty of fresh food and experiences you will enjoy this time of year.
- Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse in Milford produces 100% grass-fed, raw cows’ milk cheeses, pastured meats, and rustic breads baked in a wood-fired oven. The farm has 60 mature cows, plus a new generation of Bobolink Grazers, the result of crossing modern dairy breeds with the ancient Kerry cattle of Ireland. Their farm store is open daily except Tuesdays. Tours on Sundays, weather permitting.
- Cherry Grove Farm is a sustainable dairy farm and creamery on 480 acres in Lawrenceville, making award-winning farmstead cheeses from grass-fed raw cows’ milk. The farm also raises heritage breed pigs, lambs, chickens, and beef cattle, raised without hormones, antibiotics or steroids. Farm Store open daily April through December. They are offering many cheese-making classes this fall.
- Dogwood Farms in Basking Ridge is a certified organic farm with roots going back to before the Revolutionary War. On this site, French troops encamped in 1781 on their way to victory in Yorktown, VA later in the year. The view from the barn across the fields hasn’t changed in more than two centuries. Visit with farm animals and purchase your fresh, organic foods in an antique barn made of hand-hewn beams. Be sure to try Dogwood’s own hot sauces, pasta sauces, and Bloody Mary mix.
- Gorgeous Goat Creamery in Stockton offers tours, hikes, and picnics with a growing herd of goats who will capture your heart! Purchase weekend tickets online. October tickets will be available starting in late September. They also are offering a special soap making class on September 24. They also offer a range of goat cheeses, soaps, and other products after your visit, or at one of several farmer’s markets.
- Griggstown Farm Market near Princeton sells its famous “Griggstown chicken” and other farm products using all-natural methods. The market sells seasonal fruit pies, pot pies, poultry sausages, quail eggs, and fresh seasonal soups. All products prepared in a USDA kitchen at the Farm. Thanksgiving and holiday menus complement the farm-raised turkeys sold in November & December. Store open daily.
- Hidden Spring Lavender and Alpaca Farm is offering “walk with an alpaca” tickets every weekend this autumn. The weekend of September 24 & 25 will bring special activities for National Alpaca Farmers Weekend. Although the lavender blooming season has past, their on-farm store is chock full of bouquets, buds, oil, lotions, creams, moisturizers, hand soap, aromatherapy and bath and body items, lavender wreaths, dried Lavender, and more.
We’ve heard more than a few folks joke about New Jersey’s nickname, the Garden State! But after a day, a weekend, or a week visiting Central Jersey farms, you’ll be a true believer, just as the visiting French troops were when they passed through the region 241 years ago!
*“Travels in North-America in the Years 1780-81-82” by the Marquis de Chastellux, published 1828 in New York.