As families gather around the table to enjoy the bounty of nature, we are quick to remember that the Garden State would have never earned its nickname without farms. At one time, not so long ago, most of the area was agricultural, like the massive Hazard ketchup empire of Shrewsbury. It was as recently as 1957 when the Garden State Parkway opened, cutting through the many soybean, hay and vegetable farms of Holmdel. While many of the sprawling farm tracts of old have been given up to housing, there are still many to enjoy.
The massive fields of fruit trees at Battleview Orchards have been providing spectacular apples, peaches, nectarines and more since 1908. There’s the six-generation Bullock Farm in Cream Ridge. In addition to hay, Christmas trees and pumpkins, it’s home to Screamin Hill, a rare farm-to-glass brewery where all the ingredients are grown feet from the taps.
One of the area’s most well-known names is Brock Farms, a family farm still run by Ed Brock Sr., son Eddie and daughter Linda – all with the inspiration of Ed’s wife of 58 years, Jean.
The 80-year history starts with Ed, an industrious youngster who picked and sold blueberries at a roadside stand when he was only 8 years old. His parents fueled his love of hard work and gardening, and at just 14, Ed got a $2,000 loan to open his own road stand that eventually led to him opening the evergreen Brock Farms on Route 34 in Colts Neck. It quickly became the resource for high-quality plants, gardening items, statuary, garden pools and flowers.
Building on that success, he opened the second location in Freehold in 1958. In addition to offering a wide assortment of garden plants, shrubbery and trees direct from the 700 acres of farmland, the Freehold location puts on a holiday show of decorating and gift items so enormous and unique, it draws crowds each year from all over New Jersey and surrounding states.
The Brock family is still active in the business and are most often found at either of the locations, and that includes Ed who, at 90, is still committed to bringing the public high-quality items, backed by the Brock name. Over the years, the farm has received numerous awards, including being named business of the year by the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association.
Finally, for a real taste of history, head over to Wemrock Orchards in Freehold, just down the road from the Monmouth Battlefield, owned by generations of the Guinco family.
In 1952, Albert and Jeannette Giunco, of Belmar, brought a 250-acre cow farm as a gift for their sons, John and Richard. John Giunco had received his agricultural degree from Rutgers University and was planning an apple and peach orchard when he was called to serve in the Korean War, so the family took on the planting and created the original farm called Twin Lakes Orchards. Their apples, peaches, pumpkins and vegetables were shipped all over the world. The farm grew to include a cold storage facility which is now the current location of Wemrock Orchard’s County Store. That’s where you’ll find the baked goods, wines and famous pies.
It began when the family started hauling produce and apple cider to a roadside stand. Soon, John Giunco’s wife, Annette, began bringing her handmade apple pies and peach pies to the stand too. Inspired by her grandma, Annette’s pies were such a big hit, John installed a bakery where she made all kinds of pies, apple cider doughnuts, cakes, brownies and more. The bakery still uses Annette’s recipes, and savoring one today is a tasty step back in time. The pie menu includes more than a dozen varieties, like apple, pecan, coconut, strawberry rhubarb, custard, peach and more.
These farms and many others also offer great holiday gifts items, making a visit even more of an adventure this time of year.