ROSE ROBSON: Robson’s Farm, Wrightstown

By | May 01, 2018
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ROSE ROBSON: Robson’s Farm, Wrightstown
PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF ROSE ROBSON

PRIORITIES: SUPPORT FOR BEGINNERS, SPECIALTY CROPS
 

“Capital-intense farming needs to be an attractive pursuit to generational farmers as well as beginning farmers.”

Rose Robson is in an unusual position. The fourth-generation farmer, who restarted her 40-acre family farm in Wrightstown in 2013, is surrounded by other producers— roughly five within a five-minute drive, by her count. To capture the hearts (and wallets) of potential customers, she cultivates crops not found elsewhere. Her winning proposition? An orchard full of peaches, alongside unusual varieties, such as quince, currants and pawpaws. She also has a creative hand with cut flowers.

That’s smart marketing, especially in the age of Instagram. “If you’re direct marketing, you have to be incredibly creative, almost customer-centric,” Robson says. “Really catering to them, bringing them in, making them feel part of your business.” This year, she’s even growing apples with hot-pink flesh. Still, there’s a catch: “Having an orchard is incredibly capital-intensive,” Robson says. “You need the really big equipment.”

Big equipment means big dollars, which can be close to prohibitive for farmers just starting out, even if they have generational land.

Then there’s the risk of failed crops. Take Robson’s rhubarb disaster. “I planted it, and two days later we got six inches of rain,” she recalls. The rhubarb washed into a field of winter wheat. “I went and picked it out and tried to replant it. It all died. There’s no coming back from that.” She lost only a row, but such scenarios can put a young business at risk.

The way Robson sees it, the more support for beginning farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill, the better. “New Jersey is not only an incredibly populated state where access to land is a challenge, to put it mildly. It is also an expensive state to live and do business [in],” Robson says.

 “One of the greatest opportunities for New Jersey with the Farm Bill is to encourage entry into farming through increased access to land and capital for young, beginning, veteran and underrepresented farmers.

“Capital-intense farming needs to be an attractive pursuit to generational farmers as well as beginning farmers.”

She would also like to see more emphasis on specialty crops— fruits and vegetables. “It’s so important to support specialty crops. I guess if we had to, we could live on grain and soy, but there’s so much else out there aside from the Big Ag of the Midwest,” Robson says. The imbalance can leave mid-size farms like the ones here in a precarious position. “The middle is where you have the hardest time making the numbers. Small farms can make the numbers because they’re really small. The large farms, they’re selling quantity, quantity, quantity. In places like New Jersey where we don’t have that much access to land, there are more people in the middle.”

As input costs rise, margins are squeezed. Yet the cost of an eggplant is invisible to the average buyer, making it hard to claim a fair price. There’s planting and transplanting and tending field. There are field-cover costs and irrigation costs.

“It’s 10,000 costs, and then you get your dollar,” Robson says, noting that more support for programs like Jersey Fresh, the marketing program of the NJ Department of Agriculture, could go a long way.

“Even though buying local and farm-to-table is so big right now, farmers are still struggling. If they could somehow engage the marketing and help us to command the price that people need to make a living, that would be equally helpful.” 

Article from Edible Jersey at http://ediblejersey.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/rose-robson-robson-s-farm-wrightstown
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