There is a piece of land in Lawrenceville, NJ—just outside Princeton—that has belonged to one family since 1902. The Hamill family has been farming 400+ acres since before the big box stores in nearby towns were even incorporated. Starting off as a row crop farm in its early stages, the land transformed into a dairy farm years down the road. As decades went by, the land was leased to various dairy farmers. Over those years, the Hamills saw and understood what was happening to the land as a result of conventional farming. In 1987, when three of the Hamill brothers inherited the bulk of those acres, Cherry Grove Farm was born.
I had the pleasure of walking through the farm and listening to Kathy Simon, the Cherry Grove Farms marketing manager, talk about the trial-and-error elements of being sustainable. Rotating pastures the animals use, considering how they farm the soil, reusing whey from the cheese to feed the animals: these are just a few ways Cherry Grove Farm keeps up with the family’s core values. They have respect for the land and also for their products—and the customers who buy them. They even heat their farm with a wood-burning furnace fueled by wood from a local arborist.
In the early 1900s it was not uncommon to see farm hands—interns of the land—live on the farm. But, in 2018? Well, yes. Cherry Grove offers a unique stewardship for farm interns to live on the very land from which they are learning and working. While this internship program has not been intact on the farm for that long, it plays an important part in creating a younger generation of farmers. One person who could have taken advantage of the internship is farm manager Andrew Insua. He started off as an assistant to the dairy manager for a few years. Then, when the position became open, it was his. Who better to work one on one with the land than this archaeologist by trade? And Insua is not alone in being a talented individual moving this farm forward. From a cheese-making Yale graduate to a chef who was once was a consultant to Dr. Oz, an array of talented people make this farm a success.
We hear about true American stories all the time, but I came to believe this is a true New Jersey story after visiting the farm, seeing the employees, and learning about how the Hamill family is not only giving back to the land through their animals, but also giving back to the community with classes on cheese making, corporate team building and, of course, chef-driven meals on the farm. Stop by the farm store and pick out your favorite cheese. (Mine were the Trilby, Lawrenceville Jack, and Herdsman.)
The Farm’s Mission
The Cherry Grove Farm mission opens with the following line: “Our commitment as a farm is to be transparent, to educate and engage with our community, reconnecting our neighbors to the land and one of the sources of their food.”
Thank you, Cherry Grove Farm.
Cherry Grove Farm
Lawrenceville Road (Route 206 North)
Lawrenceville, New Jersey 08648
—By Jeff Holmes