May 16, 2013
New Jersey farm honored for charity

Now in its 100th year of operation, Von Thun Farms in Monmouth Junction, N.J., continues to provide portions of its fruit and vegetable harvest to needy residents of the region.

And for their efforts, operators of the farm were recently honored at the New Jersey State Agricultural Convention with the Neil Robson Farmers Against Hunger Award. The award was established to recognize farmers who make outstanding contributions to the fight against hunger by providing fresh vegetables to those who need them.

Bob and Cindy Von Thun have donated more than 30,000 pounds of produce to Farmers Against Hunger, a gleaning organization that collects donated Jersey Fresh produce and distributes it to feeding organizations throughout the state.

“We help them out and they come out to our farm to do gleanings,” Bob Von Thun said.

Von Thun Farms has been working with the program for several years, providing “whatever we have extra at the time that they can load up in the truck,” he said. “It’s a little of mixed vegetables and other items, some sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers and squash – whatever’s extra bountiful.”

“They get a lot of what’s nicked or scratched that we can’t send to market and would otherwise just put back into the fields, and it’s just a shame to do that,” he said. “We just feel (donating food) is the right thing to do. There’s a tremendous amount of people in need with the economy the way it is, and all of the massive storms we’ve had.”

Including some leased land, the Von Thuns farm about 150 acres, including a plethora of seasonable fruits and vegetables. Bob’s parents currently own the five-generation business, which he expects could continue with his son, who has entered an agricultural program in college.

Von Thun Farms was recently honored as a Century Farm by the New Jersey Agricultural Society.

“We have a nice variety, with larger acreages of pumpkins and sweet corn and a small acreage of all the other things,” Von Thun said.

The operation has a retail floral greenhouse that opens in early May, and plants are sold both wholesale and retail. Strawberries are the first crop harvested, usually in mid-May, followed by homegrown vegetables that start arriving at the end of the month.

Blackberries and raspberries are offered in early summer, and apples and pumpkins dominate the fall season.
Von Thun’s Country Farm Market has operated since 1986. The farm market, housed in a barn, used to be the only outlet for fresh fruits and vegetables that were grown on the farm. As the years passed, the market was expanded and redesigned. Although homegrown fruits and vegetables are still sold in the farm market, the farm has diversified, and the market has become the “home base” for all sales (both retail and wholesale), pick your own, festivals, tours and other farm activities. Products also are sold to supermarket outlets in the area during the summer.

“We have a fresh-market road stand and go to some tail-gate farm markets throughout the state,” Von Thun noted.
Von Thun said the farm operates with a “community minded approach. We work with the community as best as possible. Being in a very rural area, we try to be good neighbors and friends. We provide a lot of agritourism opportunities, school field trips and we operate a CSA program.”

He said Farmers Against Hunger has been helping local farmers donate their surplus produce to area soup kitchens, food pantries and those in need for more than 10 years.
Created in 1996 by several local farmers, Farmers Against Hunger is a nonprofit entity that operates year round designed to link farmers, grocery stores and produce suppliers with more than 60 emergency feeding organizations, soup kitchens and service organizations, as well as provide produce to the state’s food banks.

Since its inception, Farmers Against Hunger has collected and distributed more than 15 million pounds of produce.
Gleanings are an important component of Farmers Against Hunger. Each year, nearly 1,000 volunteers come out to farms during the season to harvest produce for the program. Gleanings are used to educate the non-farm community about agriculture in the largely urban state, while harvesting thousands of pounds of produce for the program.

The gleanings typically involve student-age participants, other educational organizations and corporate groups learning about agriculture and harvesting produce for the needy.

Kristina Guttadora, Farmers Against Hunger program director, said the Von Thuns have been long-time supporters of the program, conducting a number of fundraisers over the years. Those efforts include a corn maze in which all proceeds go to the Farmers Against Hunger effort.

“I call on a weekly basis to check in with them,” Guttadora said. “Almost weekly from July to November, they donate about 2,000 pounds or more of produce a week to us.”
She said Bob sits on the organization’s board of directors and his son, Tim, helps with the gleaning activities the group conducts at the farm.

“On top of that, they give a lot of support to us,” she said. “Whatever needs to be done, they help us. Bob is just that type of guy. He has even gone out on the road to help fix our trucks that break down. He’ll put in a 12-hour day and still come to meet with our board at night. Cindy has given me website ideas and shared their marketing tools with us.”

Guttadora said she nominated Von Thun Farms for the Robson award because “we were looking for someone that is involved in so many different ways with Farmers Against Hunger.”

– Gary Pullano

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