After sparring with the Cedar Grove Township Council over what to sell, where to plant and who can help, Morgan’s Farm is back with more land, and even more variety.
John Ostering, a Cedar Grove Historical Society member and former resident, opened the now-organic farm to the public last summer. After a longstanding proposal to expand, a quarter acre plot opposite the original 70- by 40- foot garden was approved by the township in late 2013. Ostering says the land was needed to keep up with consumer demands, and the land’s legacy.
Though Ostering admits it wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish.
“I hope I never have to see any of you guys ever again,” Ostering said, referring to the Cedar Grove council members.
Ostering was attributing his statement to last year, when he and members of the Cedar Grove Historical Society made appearances to numerous council meetings to discuss the terms of the farm.
Courtenay Morgan, formerly a well-known farmer in Cedar Grove, owned the 14-acre land known today as Morgan’s Farm and Museum. In 1985, Morgan died and willed the land to the township, according to the society’s website. The land’s management and funding has since been split between the society and the township.
Last August, members of the council were against the selling of perishable items like eggs, corn and honey, according to previous reports in the Times. “If somebody went up there and bought something and they wound up getting sick – you have the potential of now opening up a possible legal issue,” Chiusolo said at the time.
The land itself is under the township’s insurance policy, and therefore the township is responsible for any products sold at the farm, the council explained. Though Ostering confirmed he no longer sells eggs, he says he was able to provide proof of insurance for the honey he was selling (not originating from the farm).
The corn, however, is still available at the weekly farm stand Ostering supervises every summer Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. “The corn and tomatoes are a way to pay homage to Morgan, [since] that is what Morgan grew and sold,” Ostering said.
Reading passages from Morgan’s journal entries, Ostering attests to how Morgan planted thousands of tomatoes and went onto sell them from 1920 through 1985.
Ostering, who previously told the Times that he “wanted to be known as the guy with the best tomatoes around,” admits that his determination stems from Morgan’s accomplishments.
“In some years, he would plant up to 6,000 tomato plants. I have 750 tomatoes of [different] varieties that not everyone even knows exists,” said Ostering. These varieties include Cherokee Purple, Nebraska Wedding and Great White tomatoes.
The tomatoes are held within the farm’s extension, along with a host of different zucchini, squash, lettuces, cucumbers, and new additions like watermelons and potatoes.To fund the expansion, Ostering said he teamed up with the society and used his own money – saved from his metal fabrication business, United Support Solution – proceeds from the annual farm stand, and a $5,000 grant from Partners for Health Foundation (PHF). The PHF is an organization focused on strengthening the health and wellness of communities, including Cedar Grove and Verona, according to the PHF website.
Now, Ostering says his only obstacle is volunteers. “Since our first year, we went from three volunteers to 15,” Ostering said. While he’s thankful for the volunteers, he wishes he had more of their time.
For example, Ostering explained how applying his homemade fertilizer of coffee, vegetable compost and chicken manure took six hours to apply to the farm’s tomato plants.
“Volunteers come, and I’m grateful. But they come for two or three hours, and then the rest of the work falls on me and it’s just a lot,” Ostering said.
The Verona resident says he, and Historical Society Vice President Jean Jaeger tried to get high school students involved, but the was denied due to potential legal issues regarding the safety of the teens on the property.
Though Ostering is overjoyed with the new garden addition, he says it’s more than enough. “I couldn’t handle any more land by myself. [But] as long as we are able to meet the demand of [selling] fresh organic vegetables, at reasonable prices to the community – it’s worth the work,” he said.
Ostering says he plans to look into linking internship programs with Morgan’s Farm to get more help managing the gardens.