by Jeff Wolfe
East Greenwich Township has seen farmland disappear at a rapid rate over the last 15 years. The population has nearly doubled to about 10,000 people as fields that once grew a variety of vegetables, were sold and have been sprouting houses.
So when East Greenwich resident Bill Bumbernick sold his communications business and was deciding what to do next, he went the opposite way. Bumbernick purchased 42 acres of land off of Democrat Road and instead building houses on it, he decided to build a whole different kind of community.
Bumbernick is the owner of what is now called Cecil Creek Farm and has turned it into a Community Supported Agriculture project, otherwise known as a CSA.
“My wife (Megan) grew up adjacent to it and she used to go over there and feed the horses carrots,” Bumbernick said. “There was a plan to have 22 homes put on it. We decided let’s save it, but we didn’t know at the time what we were going to do with it.”
Bumbernick started a tech business in 2000 and eventually solid it in 2011.
“It’s kind of the great American story for me,” he said. “I spent some long hard hours on that business and we just kind of stuck with it and it was the right decision for us at the time. We sold the business and did really well with it.”
So with time on their hands, the Bumbernick family went on a nationwide vacation, renting an RV and traveling around the country for five months. When they were on the West Coast the inspiration for a CSA in East Greenwich hit them.
“We were in California, and we tried to use local sources to buy our food when we traveled,” Bumbernick said. “There was a farm market there who had a CSA. My wife and I were into it and we said what better way to invest in the community.”
Bumbernick said that he and his family took about four months to get to California, but then made a much quicker return home to get started with their CSA idea.
“We had a few stops along the northern states and we hit the major places, like Mount Rushmore, but we kind of boogied it back,” Bumbernick said. “We were excited to get started on this path. We made it back home in about three or four weeks. We hit those main spots, but we didn’t meander as much.”
While the dream of starting a CSA farm was fresh on the Bumbernicks’ minds, and while they had land and finances, there was one significant obstacle. Bill Bumbernick was not and had never been a farmer. So he hired a veteran farmer in Mark Tebben.
“I’m the farm owner and he’s the farm manager,” Bumbernick said. “He’s completely dedicated to farming. He hasgreat respect for it and we are really lucky to have him. He comes from this background. He worked at a CSA up in Burlington County and he has a great background. I’m not a farmer by trade.”
But Bumbernick, who does handle the business and marketing side, is learning the tricks of the trade. Cecil Creek, named after Megan’s late father Cecil Cuthbert, eventually wants to be certified as an organic farm. “We need to
practice those growing methods for three years before we can be a certified organic farm,” he said. “But we are doing things by the same practices that certified organic farms use.”
What organic means, is if a certain type of bug starts to attack a plant, then the farm’s workers can’t just go and spray the plant with a pesticide to keep the bug away. They have to find a natural predator to keep the bug away.
“As far as insects, there is a predator for about any animal,” Bumbernick said. “Things like the Praying Mantis, or a Lady Bug. We look for bugs like that to keep bad bugs out. The crop rotation is a big thing, too. Farmers are starting to use these practices so that when you are constantly moving them, then when the bugs return they are like what happened to the vegetable that we had last year.”
As far as keeping weeds from overtaking the plants, Bumbernick says they can use basket weeders, which can be run down the rows.
“As the little weeds start to evolve, you run it down the rows and it turns the soil up from about an inch deep,” he said. “It exposes the roots and they don’t grow. But sometimes you just have to hand pull the weeds, too.
“It’s a huge challenge on new land like this that has sat and has had an opportunity to create weeds. Once the seeds drop, then it creates next year’s weed crop. With our land, weeds will be a challenge.”
What won’t be a challenge for the initial members of the CSA at Cecil Creek, is finding a variety of food to choose from. Bumbernick says there will be about 70 different kinds of vegetables. But the farm will feature more than just plants. There will also be naturally fed chickens and pigs. There are also plans for a pond where members can fish, in a catch and release program.
The farm will also feature a main building where activities can take place as well as greenhouses and a henhouse for the chicken. There will also be two horses on hand for people to see. Bumbernick also hopes to have programs for members’ children once the weather warms up.
“We will have kids programs on Saturdays before the summer and then on Thursdays in the summer,” he said. “Sometimes we can talk about chickens and eggs, or the life cycle of a strawberry and there are all kinds of things for kids to do on the farm as well.”
The farm also plans to host cooking classes for adults that would show them a variety of ways to incorporate the vegetables as well as items like honey into recipes. And that’s still not all.
“We’re in the process of building some nature trails, so there will be some interesting things for people to see and do,” Bumbernick said. “It’s going to be like a park for the members.”
And when it came to members and selling shares, that was still a big question at the beginning of the year. Even with all the big plans and big ideas, a CSA doesn’t happen without members.
It turns out that wasn’t a problem at all. Cecil Creek put out a call for members on Jan. 13 and the membership was full by the end of the month. That’s partly because it is taking only 60 members this year and hopes to increase to 200 next year. A share cost is $672 per year for a 24 week season and Bumbernick said that people can split shares if they feel one share is too much in either price or amount of food that will be needed.
“We only decided to sell 60 shares this year because we wanted to make sure there was enough food,” said Bumbernick, who added they will actually be farming nine acres this year. “We already have a waiting list of 50 people long as of today (mid-February). It’s pretty amazing.”
Bumbernick said if someone wants to get on the waiting list to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with name, address, email address, and telephone number.
He said the farm’s location, which is about a mile off of exit 16B from I-295, has helped draw members from other communities such as Turnersville, Washington Township and Pilesgrove.
“The location of the farm is great,” he said. “It’s not just local members, but they are coming from all over, which is fascinating.”
Bumbernick believes that people are becoming more fascinated with what they eat and exactly where it comes from.
“That we sold out in three weeks, I was kind of blown away by that,” he said. “A lot people want to be connected to where it comes from. In the fall with the pumpkin rides, all these local farms are packed. I think that’s kind of the tip of the iceberg for the desire to be connected to the farm.”
Bumbernick says, too, it’s important for children to understand what they are eating and where it comes from.
“We want our kids to understand that food doesn’t just come in a cellophane wrapper,” he said. “There is a whole world of providing healthy food for us. It’s important for our kids to understand the value and the effort that goes into it.”