'There's a Need for Us'

Educational project helps New Jersey family keep farm amid urban sprawl.

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School trips to Duffield's Farm Market in the spring often include a wagon ride to the strawberry patch, and the children take home whatever they pick.

Charles H. Harrison

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When Jeffrey Pollock was growing up in Washington Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey, in the 1970s, the countryside was dotted with fruit, vegetable and dairy farms that once numbered close to 200. Now, a population of nearly 49,000 has obliterated all save one of those farms. The Duffield family – owners of that single holdout – and Pollock, the life science coordinator for the township’s six elementary schools, have partnered to ensure that children learn where food comes from and who produces it.

Washington Township is eight miles south of Philadelphia as the heavy traffic flows, and New Jersey is the nation’s most urban state. Yet, the partnership between the Duffields and the schools – called Student Farmers Grow and Give – was the only one of 27 community-school programs in the nation to focus on agriculture and compete for the 2007 National Civic Star Award jointly sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators and Sodexho USA. (The Washington Township program ultimately did not win the award.)

Eleven Duffield family members are actively engaged in farming the 170 preserved acres surrounded by housing developments and in running the Farm Market at the intersection of Green Tree and Chapel Heights roads. They are David, age 75; his sons David Jr. and Dan; his daughter Debbie; his daughters-in-law Tracy and RuthAnn; and five grandchildren.

In 1990, the occasional school field trip to Duffield’s Farm Market by children in pre-kindergarten through third grade featured strawberry picking in spring and hayrides in fall. Along about 1995 or 1996, Tracy Duffield says, teachers started asking if the Duffields could come up with something more to connect to the schools’ curriculum.

The “something more” started when Tracy created two large bulletin boards on wheels. The fact boards grew into the Learning Barn, an open-air pavilion that includes books about farm life, scarecrows to be dressed, jigsaw puzzles that depict farm scenes, and a small-scale version of Duffield’s market.

Student Farmers Grow and Give was first cited as the best community project in New Jersey by the state’s Association of School Administrators. It was entered into the national competition after Duffield and Pollock agreed that learning alone wasn’t enough, the children needed to be doing: planting, harvesting and donating produce.

Before the “doing,” Tracy visits the schools to talk to 650 third-graders about farming, planting and harvesting. She also explains to the students how everyone benefits when farmers agree to preserve their land (150,000-plus preserved acres in New Jersey thus far).

Tracy distributes squash seeds to the children, who then plant the seeds in trays. In late May or early June, the children plant the seedlings in the Duffield’s Children’s Charity Garden. Many of the children return in July to pick the squash.

All fruit harvested by the children is donated to Farmers Against Hunger, a statewide project designed to feed poor families. In the summer of 2006, the children picked, boxed and shipped 1,200 pounds of squash.

Over the main entrance to the Farm Market are the words, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” The Duffields decided long ago to share that goodness in many ways: Student Farmers Grow and Give is one such way. The family bears all expenses of the program, except the school buses.

“We’re not getting rich,” says David Duffield Sr., “but we’re making a nice living. I think there’s a need for us here.”