All who are curious about organic gardening / farming practices and organic food in general should make time to attend “Festomato,” a day-long event co-sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey [NOFA-NJ,] and the Princeton Public Library. This free celebration of tomatoes—and indeed, all things organic, including cooking demos and lectures – will be held at Hinds Plaza, under a big tent, on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nagisa Manabe, [mah-nah-bee,] a Harvard Business School grad and organic farmer herself – who owns and operates River Stoan Farm in nearby Kingston, said the event is designed to raise public awareness about the regenerative aspects of organic farming.
“We want to raise public awareness about organic food and the challenges facing our farmers,” Manabe explains, “so we thought a great way to do that is invite everybody out to enjoy one of the Garden State’s most celebrated crops, the Jersey Tomato.”
Manabe, Chief Operating Officer for NOFA-NJ, which has more than 400 organic farmer and gardener members, grows a wide range of exotic Japanese vegetables on her farm in Kingston, and has been heavily involved with NOFA-NJ since 2014. She and President Adrian Hyde of Princeton and a small team of NOFA volunteers have been working for months to make “Festomato” a memorable event, one that may become an annual free event.
Chefs will demonstrate recipes using Jersey Fresh tomatoes and three bands will entertain patrons throughout the afternoon at Hinds Plaza. There is no rain date for the event, but patrons shouldn’t let a little rain keep them away, as there will be plenty of tables and chairs underneath a large tent on the plaza. Patrons can park in the deck nearby at reasonable rates.
“Many area restaurants will be on hand serving food, including anything you can think of with tomatoes, like gazpacho and tomato sorbet,” Manabe explains. Area chefs will be on hand to demonstrate various recipes involving tomatoes and other organically grown vegetables. They include Kim Rizk from Jammin’ Crepes, and PBS-TV chef Christina Pirello. Rizk will offer up a tomato preserving demonstration, as most organic farmers and backyard gardeners are often faced with a profusion of ripe tomatoes all at once!
“We have Nate Kleinman from the Experimental Food Network in Philadelphia, who will be speaking about saving seeds, so if you have a tomato variety you love you can learn how to save the seeds for next season.”
Participating organic farms include Chickadee Creek Farm, the Muth Family Farm, Abe’s Acres Farm, Cherry Grove Farm and Cherry Valley Co-Op Farm. All will be bringing their tomatoes and other Jersey Fresh organic produce to the event, and patrons will be able to sample more than 50 varieties of tomatoes.
Al Johnson and Stephanie Harris longtime members of NOFA-NJ and pioneering organic farmers from Titusville and Hopewell respectively, will speak about regenerative agriculture. Harris will speak about planting a climate-friendly victory garden, while Johnson will speak about how to cultivate healthy, living soils through the power of all-natural composting. Judy Robinson from NOFA-NJ will also be on hand to present about pollinators and tomato growing. Lectures will be held on a quieter end of the plaza, because three bands will be performing throughout the day on Sept. 7. Bands include Bill Flemer and Group from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Matthew Backes and the Magnolia Street String Band from 1 to 3 p.m. and Carolyn Klaube and ALBO from 3 to 5 p.m.
Participating restaurant / food vendors will include Jammin’ Crepes, the Terra Momo Group, Ticos, Arlee’s, Lillipies, Jules’ Thin Crust Pizza, Local Greek, the Bent Spoon, the Whole Earth Center, Triumph Brewing, the Witherspoon Group, and the McCaffrey’s Food Markets.
“We’re also presenting a wonderful kids program, where kids will be teaching other kids about organic practices,” Manabe noted.
Whether you are a neophyte backyard vegetable grower or experienced smaller farmer converting to organic, or a conventional farmer interested in learning more about organic farming principles, all who attend will come away empowered with new knowledge, new ideas and new enthusiasm for regenerative agriculture and healthy organic food ways.
“People can learn a lot more about organic practices,” Manabe stressed, “and if you’re not an organic farmer or organic gardener, you can learn how to do it. If you’ve been growing organically for a while, we’re going to have several organic ‘doctors,’ there, so if you’re having trouble with your tomatoes at the end of the season, you can get coaching from Stephanie Harris, Al Johnson, Tessa Desmond and others from NOFA-New Jersey.”
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Questions? E-mail Nagisa@nofanj.org.