Organic farm owners prepare for season

Chad Muckenfuss is a third-generation farmer in Medford, currently running the Mill Creek Organic Farm with his wife Kate.

The land was purchased by Muckenfuss’ grandparents in the late 1950s, and was not immediately farmed.

“My mom was born and raised in Medford, and she really embraced the organic movement. She began converting the farm to completely organic, which was completely unknown at the time,” Muckenfuss said.

The difference between traditional farming and organic farming is the use of herbicides, pesticides and unnatural, chemically-based fertilizers.

“This was used especially on medium- to large-scale farms, which she completely did away with, and moved to a crop rotate method where only one type of crop is grown in one section per year, then it’s rotated,” Muckenfuss said.

According to Muckenfuss, the method is useful in maintaining soil health and replenishing nutrients. The family utilizes a composting method, in addition to horse and chicken manure as a means of fertilizing the crops.

“The chicken poop is very helpul in that it’s very high in nitrogen, which is very helpful for vegetables and such,” Muckenfuss said.

The couple recently began the process of tilling and planting crops for the beginning of the season. Mill Creek is comprised of 150 acres, 25 of which are farmed for vegetables. The remaining 125 are farmed for grains, specifically sunflower seeds, soybeans and sorghum. All three grains are sold on the commercial market as certified organic seeds.

“When you plant the sunflower, you get the blossom with the seeds. You get about 500 to 1,000 seeds per flower, then that is harvested and the seeds are dried and cooked,” Muckenfuss said.

The seeds are then sold in the supermarket or converted into sunflower seed oil.

“The same idea for the sorghum, it grows like corn as far as it’s a stalk. The stalk gets a head on it and that’s what’s harvested,” Muckenfuss said.

The soybean yield is used for any soybean-based product, including soy sauce and flour.

The farm was a team decision for the pair.

“It started really for us with the asparagus,” Kate said. “We had too much for our family to eat by ourselves, and we thought, why not sell it? From there, we got our stand in the summer.”

Both Chad and Kate work full-time on top of the responsibilities of the farm and have two children. Kate is a nurse and Chad works in IT and telecommunications in Moorestown.

Time is the biggest challenge for the couple.

“You can plant all the stuff and have all the hopes in the world, but you’re relying on nature to provide what happens,” Muckenfuss said.

The spring season starts with asparagus, lettuce, peas and spinach. Summer will yield strawberries, the only fruit they produce, radishes, summer squash, peppers, hot peppers, heirloom tomatoes, silver queen sweet white corn, green beans, wax beans, red skin, Kennebec and Yukon gold potatoes. In the fall, the farm produces squash and pumpkins.

“This time of year is fairly easy. It’s a lot of tractor work so you’re tilling up the soil,” Muckenfuss said. “The tedious part is planting. Mid-summer and summer is taking care of the crops and weeding, which gets fairly tedious.”

In addition to the crops, the family owns chickens and two horses.

“The eggs are sold year-round,” Muckenfuss said. “We have roughly 200 chickens, which equates to about eight or 10 dozen a day that we collect.”

The couple doesn’t hatch the eggs and raise chicks. Chickens are adopted and are raised free range at Mill Creek.

The chickens are provided with all organic feed, including grains, grass clippings and any plants they wish to eat.

The differences between the white eggs at the store and multicolored eggs from the farm can be attributed to three major factors – he breed of chicken, how it’s raised and the freshness of the egg, Muckenfuss said.

According to Muckenfuss, store-bought eggs tend to be at least two weeks old by the time they arrive to the store. The chickens are typically raised in a one by one foot square cage and only lay eggs.

“We have happy chickens,” Kate said.

“They’re outside and running around. They know they get fed a couple times a day, and eat bugs if they want to. They know they’re taken care of,” Chad said.

The farm stand is open daily, and the couple sends emails to let patrons know what’s available week-to-week.

“We’re able to service the community,” Muckenfuss said. “When we started five or six years ago, it started with 25 or so customers who would stop in and buy asparagus. Now we’re up to 360 or so people. It’s a real grassroots operation. We know people have to make the effort to get here.”

Mill Creek vegetables are also sold at the Kirby’s Mill farm market and at Whole Foods’ farm market on Tuesdays in the summer in Marlton.

The couple receives emails from all over the country about the operations, and is willing to teach local couples the basics of organic farming.

“They wanted organic dirt, we gave them some and helped get them started,” Muckenfuss said. “It’s enjoyable to help people out and get them excited about the kind of stuff they’re eating and where it comes from.”

To learn more about Mill Creek Organic Farm and products as it becomes available, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Mill-Creek-Organic-Farm/331277871500?fref=ts.

About Shannon Caulfield

Shannon Caulfield is an Ocean City native navigating the other side of South Jersey. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Rowan University in 2012. In her spare time she loves the beach, cooking, ice hockey and spending time with family and friends. She can be reached at scaulfield@elauwit.com.View all posts by Shannon Caulfield