Photo by Matthew Hock July 12, 2016
UD alumna runs community supported agriculture farm in New Jersey
University of Delaware alumna Kristin Ward Hock always knew that she wanted to be a farmer but there was just one problem – she knew nothing about farming and didn’t know anyone to ask.
When she used Google to search for “farming in New Jersey,” however, the results led her down the path to where she is today, working as the farm manager for Caramore Farm, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm that she helped create earlier this year at Collier Youth Services in Wickatunk, New Jersey. The project allows her to combine her love of farming with her love of education.
While Hock knew that she wanted to be a farmer, the decision to walk away from a full-time position as an environmental educator with the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Park System that provided a good salary and benefits was not an easy one.
“I was 30 at that point so I thought I needed to grow up and stick with my real job but I really wanted to be a farmer, and so instead of quitting my job, I did a work share at a local farm,” said Hock.
After a year, the lure of farming took hold and Hock, who majored in animal science and wildlife conservation in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and went on to receive her master’s degree in environmental education from the Audubon Expedition Institute, decided to pursue farming full time.
“I went from a salary, health benefits, vacation and sick time to making $1,000 a month with no benefits, no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. I was working longer hours, more days, so it was definitely a commitment and I loved it,” said Hock.
Having support from her family was key in Hock making the transition to farming, and after years of traveling across the United States — working jobs such as a bald eagle nest watcher in Arizona and an environmental enrichment and education coordinator in Montana — she said that she was glad to be back in New Jersey with a close support system around.
“I moved home to New Jersey in 2010 and I thought I was just coming back to visit for the summer to spend time with my family and then figure out what I wanted to do from there, but an old friend and I got together and hung out and then we got married. I never thought I’d move back to New Jersey but I’ve been back for six years now and I’m definitely happy to be back and close to friends and family,” said Hock.
Hock apprenticed at Fernbrook Farm, a large enterprise with about 20-25 acres of vegetables, for a year. She wanted to get more experience working on a smaller and newer farm so in 2015 she cut her hours at Fernbrook and took a position at the smaller Appelget Farm CSA in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.
“I got the experience and even a visual of what a small farm looks like. It was hard to have a visual of what three and a half acres looked like going from the 20-25 acres that we were growing at Fernbrook,” said Hock, who added that she continued working at the larger farm because of the farm manager, Jeff Tober, who she called her farm mentor.
“If I have any questions or concerns, I call him. He’s a lifelong friend, just a really great person,” said Hock.
Having gained that smaller farm experience, Hock got the job at Caramore Farm in January and said that it has been an interesting transition going from a farm apprentice to creating and managing a farm.
The farm is starting out as a little over an acre and a half and Hock said that they will grow potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter and summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, kale and collards, among other crops.
Hock has a farm assistant who works 40 hours a week and two work-shares who work in exchange for food from the farm, which is how Hock began her farming career.
Her husband also volunteers at the farm and set up the farm’s irrigation system.
“I’m very grateful that I married someone who is smart and handy because as a farmer, you’re supposed to be all these different skills like a mechanic, a plumber, and I’m still learning those things,” said Hock.
With regard to the education component, Hock will meet with Collier staff this winter to discuss how to incorporate farming into the curriculum, as Hock said that almost any subject can be taught on the farm.
"Math students can do statistical analysis on the farm crops successes and failures, the English class can get inspired to write poems by walking through the farm fields, the photography class can capture the beauty of working the land, science class can do soil tests. The possibilities are endless. Plus, the students would be able to snack on vegetables straight from the vine and hopefully develop a passion for locally grown food,” said Hock.
This summer, however, she will be able to have students out at the farm in the extended school year program helping out for two hours every morning doing tasks such as hand weeding, transplanting, and making flower bouquets.
She said she is looking forward to interacting with students again, as teaching is something she feels has been missing from her life lately.
"When my husband and I go hiking and we see a family with children, my inner educator comes out and I have to stop them and point out the goldfinch in the tree and share information with them such as it being New Jersey's state bird and that they like to eat thistle seed; so he is relieved that I will have students again to teach and maybe we can actually just go for a walk in the woods without distraction,” she said. “So I’m definitely excited to be able to work with students again. I have such a love for nature and the environment and farming, and I want to tell as many people as I can. And who better than kids who will hopefully incorporate that and bring it into their future lives?”