People who believe in the precepts of organic and biodynamic gardening journey to a farm just outside the village of Marksboro in Frelinghuysen Township, NJ to study, to work, to visit with kindred spirits and to breathe some fresh air.
In 1980, a group of Dominican Sisters, nuns whose mission was education, brought the vision of Thomas Berry, a Passionist monk and cultural historian, to rural Warren County. Berry proposed that a deep understanding of the universe is essential to functioning in the world, according to his biography.
Sr. Miriam MacGillis is listed as a “co-founder” of Genesis Farm, but to the people who know her, she IS Genesis Farm. A Dominican Sister and art teacher, she began to question many things after a student inquired about the morality of the Vietnam War during a class in 1968, according to her biography. In 1973, she became coordinator of Peach and Justice Education for the Newark Archdiocese and in 1976, she joined the staff of the Global education Association, an international association that states its mission is “to advance global systems to secure ecological integrity, peace, humanities, education and social well-being.”
Sr. Miriam is still director of Genesis Farm, a position she has held since 1980. She supervised the acquisition of a second farm, the building of a resource center and library and the straw-bale construction of an office and of her own house. The total acreage is now 226, all in Farm Preservation. Along with local community members, Genesis Farm founded one of the earliest community-supported gardens (the first in New Jersey), which is now operated independently with nearly 300 members and four full-time gardeners.
During a farm tour for members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association – New Jersey, Sr. Miriam explained the Dominican Sisters took over the farm just after the United Nations Conference on Hunger when the sisters recognized the potential damage of the corporate centralization of the food system.
Along with its own organic and biodynamic gardening, Genesis Farm has taught children and adults about the practices and about Earth Literacy for more than three decades.
A children’s day camp during the summer concentrates on the same principles as the curriculum for a master’s degree in Earth Literacy offered in conjunction with Saint Thomas University.
For years, Genesis Farm offered regular programs to its community, which often included people from several states away. Classes, poetry readings, workshops on simplifying the holidays and meetings about land preservation have all been held in the resource center or the farmhouse. The land around the farmhouse and barns is the site of solstice ceremonies and memorials.
With the advent of the Internet, Sr. Miriam said, people have more resources for education, so Genesis Farm is rethinking its mission.
The farm is still interested in providing uses for local farm products, which is why they designed and built straw-bale buildings, she explained. Straw bales for construction can provide another source of income for farmers and is a building material that doesn’t contribute to deforestation. Straw, in spite of the “Three Little Pigs” connotation, is a good insulator and, once covered with stucco, is fireproof, insect proof and rodent proof. A talented crew can build the walls for a good-sized building in a weekend.
Another project involves warm-season grasses that are a good habitat for birds and can be collected after overwintering and pelletized for fuel.
The farm is active with the Ridge and Valley Conservancy, a land trust that acquires land to remain in open space. Both groups joined to found the Ridge and Valley Charter School, a publicly funded specialty K-8 school that emphasizes sustainability and hands-on learning.
Although the CSA and Genesis Farm are operated separately, they are joined in the minds of their followers who come out in droves for festivals at the farm including annual Earth Day and Harvest festivals. The festivals offer a chance for those who don’t live on farms to learn about sustainable agriculture and for like-minded exhibitors (beekeepers, crafters and artisans, vendors of natural skin care and medicinal products) to meet potential customers.