Gloucester County, N.J.
For Bob Muth, of Muth Family Farm, success is simple: happy customers. "The happier they are, the better off I am," says Bob. On the other hand, converting 118 acres of Gloucester county farmland into the source of gastronomical delight that it is today took some time and a good strong work ethic.
Hard work is a Muth family tradition. By working in a factory and as an auto mechanic, Bob's father was able to grow the family farm from seven acres to 45 and create a legacy for the next generation. "Mom and Pop always said that you can do anything with good old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease," explains Bob. "But for me it has always been a labor of love."
At the age of five, Bob planted his first garden beside the mailbox. "It was about three feet by three feet. My folks got me a little shovel and rake and a little hoe. I had a couple of corn plants, a tomato and a few peppers." Despite the fact that the mailman made a habit of eating the veggies once they were mature, Bob was not daunted. When it was time for college, he expanded to a one-acre plot and paid the bills by taking his produce to market.
When Bob returned to the family farm, he struggled to choose between farming and a future as a college professor. "It came down to one moment though," recollects Bob. "I was sitting in this class, one that I needed to graduate, with one eye I was taking notes, furiously trying to keep up, and out of the other eye I was watching a farmer plowing outside. That's it! I am going to farm and I am going to make it work!" Bob has been farming full time ever since.
Ready to start something new, Bob investigated creating a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where area consumers would invest in his farm and in turn he would provide them with a season's worth of produce. Marketing directly would insulate him from the volatile wholesale market where prices can drop from one day to the next. Selling to neighbors also meant that Bob had to deliver a top-notch product in order to keep them coming back for more.
To most farmers, good food means good soil. Bob puts a lot of work into building up his soil. "Mom and Pop always said that if you take care of the soil, it will take care of you." Gloucester county soil is prime agricultural land but it can easily turn from fertile to unworkable if it isn't cared for properly. Bob had alleviated this concern by only keeping 20% of the farm in production during any given year. The rest is in cover crops like hay, orchard grass, rye, or vetch for four to five year rotations. On top of that, Bob goes the extra mile and uses the winter months to mulch future production plots with leaves collected by the local municipality. Now, he says with pride, "my soil is supercharged!"
The first year of the CSA, Bob was cautious and sold only 25 shares. It was a wild success; today about 250 families belong. Bob's wife Leda has a new job: she works to make sure all the members are happy, informed, and know what to do with their veggies. One thing that makes this CSA different from others is that shareholders get a basket each season and every week, when they come to the farm for pick up, they get to pick and choose from the day's harvest what they take home. Bob is proud to have his shareholders on the farm, helping out, "This way, they get to know me and see the fields. Our members have the piece of mind that comes with knowing where their food comes from and they don't have to worry about what might be on it."
Good soil, tasty vegetables, and happy consumers equal success on the Muth Family Farm. Bob knows that all of his hard work has paid off when he hears the words: "This is the best tomato I have ever eaten!"Date: 10/19/2006