Meet Your Farmers: Ron Binaghi of Stokes Farm, New Jersey
Note: Meet Your Farmers is a weekly series where we profile the farmers that mean so much to serious eaters everywhere. This week we catch up with our pal Ron Binaghi.
Name: Ron Binaghi
Farm: Stokes Farm
How many acres? 17
Your crew: Four full-time and three part-time at the farm
Hours: We work about 60 to 85 hours between Monday and Saturday, and rest on Sunday.
What you grow: Tomatoes (nine kinds of heirloom), eggplant (eight kinds), peppers (mostly Hungarian yellow), Persian cukes, kirbies, zucchini (round zucchini, yellow long zucchini, and others), lettuce, asparagus, strawberries, onions, basil (five kinds), radish, cilantro, potato, and assorted herbs (five acres full).
Your customers: Our customers are the best—a broad cross section of ethnicities, cultures, ages, and colors. We also sell to many New York City restaurants and caterers. Over the years we have grown specific items for specific customers like Egyptian spinach, and it sort of stirred conversation with others. We increased sales that way.
How you got into farming: I am a fifth-generation farmer. Although my dad never pushed me into it, he showed me what a great life it can be if you approach it with the right attitude.
Where did you learn to farm? I learned to farm from my dad and later on from other farmers and advice from university seminars.
Your farming philosophy: Our philosophy is to not only grow the best fruits and veggies possible but also to educate our customers. We want people to know where their food comes from so they understand the balance and have a connection to the land. We are trying to keep our land in farming so future generations can have the same opportunity we have enjoyed.
Why do you farm? I farm because I love the challenge. Every day there is at least 50 things to get done but out of those 50, about 20 need to get done for sure or there will be trouble. The weather then controls our daily chores.
The best thing about farming? The satisfaction I get when seeing a product go from a tiny seed to someone's plate and the amazing transformation that plants go through during that time. We can manipulate plant growth—delay it or speed it up—but only to a point. Mother nature is in control and she only lets us intervene until she has had enough. I also get to see my family growing up everyday. I don't miss a thing in the lives of my kids because I am always around.
The worst thing? The frustration you feel after planning a crop four months ahead then seeding it, watering, nurturing, and getting it to maturity only to see the forces of nature—like rain, hail, frost—take it all away within 24 hours. Or having a great product targeted for a certain month only to have it rain on consecutive market days and all go down the dumpster.
Most important lesson you've ever learned? My most important lesson is not to blame others for your failures. Take personal responsibility for every aspect of your life and be forgiving of yourself and others. Most of our life lessons here at the farm originate from scripture. Our faith is what has brought us this far and will sustain us going forward.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? Start out small and don't extend yourself too far financially. Do you see that farmer with all the new shiny equipment and the clean pick-up truck? Well, you just might find out he's in debt up to the top of his new John Deere tractor.
Work for a farmer first then ask to rent some land. Grow small and get into a retail market. Listen to other farmers. I learned the most by listening to other growers tell me about their failures and successes. Love what you do—and don't complain without laughing afterward.
The future for good food? The future for food is great. I know a lot of growers and when you speak with them you can hear the passion in their voices. The challenge will be to produce more food on less land. The farmland shrinks and then more food will need to be produced on marginal land so you will see more greenhouses and hydroponic growing in the future. We just need to keep government out of our lives and let us do what we do best to feed the rest of you.
How has this season's early and late blight affected you? We had both but controlled it early and discarded the diseased plants. Some fungus is still lingering but if the weather stays warm and sunny it won't be a problem for us. However, if this rain keeps up, I really don't know what's going to happen. Due to rain in June and July and the lack of sun, our tomato production is now down by about 40 percent. The fall crop, however, looks amazing. I am going to roll the dice now and hope for a seven.