On a sweltering Friday at the end of July, I spent the morning with Alma VanGilder Waltz George on her 130 acre farm. I have driven by it for many years, not realizing what I was looking at, and usually spending my time looking at lilies in the lake or egrets resting in the trees at sunset. It is a magical spot and it’s always wonderful when you find you’ve been missing a little world and discover a fascinating history. The beach plum and aronia berry farm is on Route 9 on Mill Creek in Dennis Township and has been in the family for 300 years. The farm has been used for growing everything from lima beans to tomatoes, depending on the markets. There is a small mill house on Route 9 that has been rebuilt and was originally used for running a sawmill, then gristmill [grains to flour] and eventually to process tomatoes. It is open towards the east and you can watch the creek flow under the dam just below. The lake I mentioned earlier, was man-made by damming Mill Creek in 1680, originally to power a sawmill. In the 1960's it was used so the farm wasn’t at the mercy of the tides of the creek for irrigating the fields.
In 2006, they expanded the natural beach plum stand that had existed since the original settlers, and added aronia berries in 2010. Because Alma and her husband John George are environmentally conscientious, native growing beach plums and aronia berries are the perfect crops for the county and for us. They are also involved with state and county agricultural agencies that focus on native planting. Beach plums are cherry sized and grow on large shrubs the size of small trees. Not only valuable for the fruit, but the trees themselves are important for protection from soil erosion and preservation of salt water habitats. The super fruit aronia berry plants are used for the same things and are known to have a higher antioxidant capacity than any other fruit.
We are happy to carry their beach plum and aronia jams, in regular and hot. They are fabulous just for toast, but use your imagination! I took the hot beach plum to a friend’s house with Misty Meadow’s feta cheese and crackers and nothing was left. We also carry their beach plum and aronia vinegars. Look for aronia berry bowls from our juice bar this fall while they are fresh!
We invite you to come hear Alma talk about Jalma Farm, beach plums, aronia berries, and touch on some of the agricultural history of Cape May County in mid-september for our MEET THE LOCAL ARTISANS series. We will keep you posted for the exact time and date, but look forward to mid-September!