‘Tis the season for apple picking, pumpkin carving, and turkey eating, and Lee Turkey Farm offers more options than would a trip to the grocery store.
One of the first you-pick farms in New Jersey, Lee Turkey Farm offers fresh turkeys and produce, fun fall activities, and even history lessons to visitors.
“It’s kind of like a supermarket of you-pick,” said Ronny Lee, owner of Lee Turkey Farm.
“It’s always been the idea of getting it the freshest you can,” he said.
The 54-acre farm offers hundreds of fruit trees from which visitors may pick, as well as wide variety of vegetables.
Currently in season, visitors may pick their own pumpkins, gourds, winter squash, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, as well as apples, pears, and raspberries. Those wishing to forgo the picking experience may also shop at the on-site farmers market.
For more than 60 years the farm has also focused its efforts on raising turkeys. The farm currently raises 5,000 turkeys annually, and offers oven-ready turkeys and turkey parts year-round.
Lee Turkey Farm has been in the family for six generations and was purchased in 1868. In 1964, Ronny Lee’s father, Dick Lee, made it one of the first NJ farms to sell pick-your-own fruit.
Every Sunday in October the farm offers free hayrides and history lessons. Lee takes guests around the farm in a large wagon behind his tractor and recounts to guests the farm’s history.
Other tours offered this month include a $6-per-person, 50-minute walking tour recommended for 1st graders and older, with topics including farm history, fruits, vegetables, honeybees and turkeys; a $6-per-person, 30-minute hayride tour, recommended for kindergarteners and younger; and a $10-per-person, 50-minute harvest tour, recommended for 3rd graders and older, where children will see the turkeys, honeybees, and learn about the different fruits and vegetables. During the last tour, children will also harvest their own bag of assorted fruits and vegetables.
During fall, the farm also hosts a 6-acre corn maze for $6 per person.
Lee said family outings can be expensive these days, considering the rising cost of beach tags and ticket prices at theme parks. And in the long run, he said, you may have great memories, but that is the end of it.
“Here, you’ve got groceries,” Lee said.
“And the kids love it,” he continued. “They get to see where the stuff grows, how it grows.”
The farm, for example, does not focus on organic food production, although Lee said he does grow some produce organically, including broccoli and cabbage.
Lee stressed, however, that some produce grown organically does not yield the best results, and that his farm is not large enough to grow organically, so instead his family farms using an Integrated Pest Management system.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs combine current information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment with available pest control methods.
Lee said he utilizes a practice outlined by Rutgers University that calls for farmers to scout the fields, not spray unnecessarily, and use rotation to produce food that is safe.
In contrast, according to the EPA, organic food production applies many of the same concepts as IPM, but limits the use of pesticides to those that are produced from natural sources, as opposed to synthetic chemicals.
“So we educate people on the other hand that organic is a nice thought, but it’s not the be-all, do-all,” Lee said.
“It doesn’t mean it’s going to taste better; it doesn’t mean it’s safer and healthier for you,” he continued. “The only thing it means most of the time is you’re going to pay three-times more for it, because you don’t get the yield that you could have gotten.”
While Lee’s products may be cheaper than organic products, he said sometimes people are disappointed that his prices are not cheaper than a supermarket’s prices.
“We’re not going to be cheaper–the idea is to grow better quality stuff,” he said.
The farm does not wholesale their produce, which means customers can get first pick of the crops.
“We don’t go out there and take the good stuff and say, ‘ok, we picked all the good stuff, you get the seconds,’” Lee said.
For Lee, farming is a labor of love, and he is proud of what he grows.
“I’ll put my corn up against anybody’s being exceptionally good corn, especially the supermarkets,” he said. “And it’s consistently good, and that makes a big difference when your customers know they’re getting top quality stuff.”
But Lee said, considering the long hours and a variety of other factors, farming is not for everybody.
“It’s one of those things I would never try to make anybody do,” he said. “If you don’t like it, you’re going to fail at it.”
Lee said farming is the only occupation where you can do everything right, have a steady customer base ready to buy the products, but still not know what will happen from year to year.
For example, with more than 24 inches of rain falling last year, Lee lost about 7 acres of pumpkins, 90 percent of the farm’s apples, and many more vegetables last September.
But this year, Lee said, is different.
“It’s a great year for apples in this area,” he said.
Lee Turkey Farm hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sundays the farm is open from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.