Here in this month of harvest, there is no place better to visit than a farm, and you are about to tour a special one: the Colts Neck home of Eileen and Mike Stivala and their menagerie of animals and plants.
This special place started many years ago. When Eileen was a little girl living in Bergen County, she grew plants and vegetables on her windowsill and longed for a life of open spaces. Her dreams of a life on a farm never stopped building. In 1973, Eileen married Mike from Montclair, and they had two children, but that call of farm life never paled. The New York Times ran a feature on a trend called “farmette living.” This movement allowed owners of large farms to subdivide their lands into large rural homesteads. This stoked the fire in Eileen’s heart. She said, “Buying a large farm was practically impossible, and this seemed the closest we could come to it at that time.”
So in 1983, Eileen and Mike were stocking up on apple cider donuts at Delicious Orchards, and they discovered a development which offered farmettes. These farmettes were part of a 210-acre dairy farm tract. The couple made a snap decision. That same day, they plunked down a $100 deposit to become the first family to buy a 6.5-acre farmette with plans for a white Connecticut farmhouse.
“I have to thank my husband, Mike. Living a farm life was never his dream, but he made it all possible and once we took the plunge, I’d say it has really grown on him,” Eileen said. “He had no choice!”
The couple debated over whether to hire a local farmer to work their land or to really live the dream and try farming it themselves. They rolled up their sleeves, took many college courses on horticulture and farming, and took on the challenge to find their true calling and bliss. They use organic methods and eco-friendly equipment and systems and discovered they not only loved farming, but that they were quite good at it.
As all good farms should, the Stivalas’ farm and family grew. In addition to having two more children, the couple kept acquiring more land, eventually securing close to 19 acres of productive and joyful farmland.
Some 40 years have passed, and life is thriving in every inch of this farm, located on Paddock Lane in Colts Neck. But as you learned earlier, this is on ordinary farm. Thanks to the efforts of Monmouth Conservation Foundation, the State Agriculture Development Committee, Monmouth County and Colts Neck Township, the Stivala farm has earned Preserved Farmland status, meaning that the land that Mike and Eileen have been caring for will be protected forever from encroaching development.
The farm is full of stories and memories. Eileen’s childhood windowsill garden has grown into two enormous greenhouses where she grows flowers, herbs and vegetables. She made an appearance on a Martha Stewart show where she displayed potted succulent designs. The episode was so popular that it eventually led the couple to become floral estate designers. They now create four-season planters for a limited number of clients.
There is a big berry patch where blueberries and blackberries thrive under protective netting to keep snacking birds at bay. But the birds are still well-cared for living in the many bluebird boxes and birdhouses on the farm. The Stivalas grow Japanese eggplant, tomatoes, assorted peppers and pumpkins – and what’s that just beyond the vegetables? It’s their herd of nine “dreadlock” sporting Suri alpacas which, in keeping with the story, also just grew again. They just welcomed a new baby alpaca, Cria, to the fold with another on the way this month.
Animals roam freely, bees buzz through lazy afternoons, and natural residents like turtles, deer and all kinds of other critters live in tranquility.
The organic energy of the farm is also seen in their home. The Stivalas use a variety of sustainable resources like solar panels, a geothermal field for heating and cooling their home, and rain gardens to keep their farmhouse cozy all year long.
While it may be nearly impossible to change the world, Mike and Eileen believed they could make a corner of the world a little better. Thanks to their efforts, they have done that, now and into the future. Monmouth County and Colts Neck are made better by having this green oasis, nine alpacas and a property lined with Green Mountain sugar maples that attract passersby taking fall photos.
Photos by Jena Cosimo