Big News! We were voted the “Local Hero” award in the Farm/Farmer category by Edible Jersey readers! Check out the article below and read about other local heroes here.
Photo by Joanna Tully
Jess Niederer once described a chickadee as fierce, persistent, social-minded and cheerful. To me, that sounds just like her. When asked how it feels to be entering her fifth year running Chickadee Creek Farm, Niederer recalls her beginnings. “It wasn’t a sure thing that starting up a vegetable farm with a super-meager budget and minimal experience was going to pan out,” she says. In 2010, Niederer leased five acres of her family farm in Pennington and started growing vegetables on two of them. That first year, she sold produce at two farmers’ markets and had a small number of CSA members. With each year that flew by, the farm grew. Now Chickadee Creek sells its certified- and transitional-organic produce at five farmers’ markets and the CSA counts 130 members.
This growth is no coincidence. Niederer works like a wild woman, driven by fervent dedication to her farm, her community, local ecology and environment, and the people that work with her. She is tenacious, taking meticulous notes on her successes and failures and then, just as the pace of the season slows in the fall, incorporating her new knowledge into the next year’s plan. This is one of the great rewards Niederer finds in running a farm business: the chance to grow upon everything she has learned.
And somehow, she finds time to give to her community through off-farm activities as well. Every Thursday during the slower months, Niederer volunteers as an EMT for the Pennington First Aid Squad, and she attends monthly Mercer County Board of Agriculture meetings. She teaches a class through the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey that helps beginning and aspiring farmers decide if it is the right career for them. And for all her apprentices, her door remains open after they move on from her farm. I know from personal experience, as I was a Chickadee Creek Farm apprentice in 2012.
When Niederer started out, she says, she was working toward financial stability, improved local ecology and human health, and the creation of a business that she could be proud of. Now, as some of these goals are beginning to be realized, she is adding a fourth goal: to get, as she says, “food to people who cannot afford it or access it but would reap great health benefits from fresh produce.”
Even with her success, she doesn’t forget her risky beginnings, saying, “I feel so lucky to have acquired what seems to be the most awesome group of farm members ever. I feel relieved that all this even worked.” —Helen Chandler
Helen Chandler, in her second year of farming at Whistling Wolf Farm, is a regular contributor to EJ.