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Honor for feeding the needy

Duffield's Farm in Sewell has been donating crops since 1999 to New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger.

Reeve and Edward Givens at the First Baptist Church. Duffield's works with elementary schools, where third graders learn about the farm and help grow a charity garden.
Reeve and Edward Givens at the First Baptist Church. Duffield's works with elementary schools, where third graders learn about the farm and help grow a charity garden.Read more

This time of year, with its fields bare under cloudy winter skies, it is hard to imagine Duffield's Farm producing much of anything.

Yet the farm, spread over 225 acres in Gloucester County, thrives in summer, yielding thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Some of the produce goes to the farm market, in the tempting apple cider doughnuts and salads. But when state officials honored the farm last month, it wasn't for strawberry rhubarb pie.

The farm, owned and operated by Dave and Mary Duffield since 1953, was named winner of the Neil Robson Farmers Fighting Hunger Award for its record of donating fresh produce to the needy.

"It's surprising how many children go to bed hungry at night. There's no reason for so many people to be affected by hunger," said Tracy Duffield, daughter-in-law of the owners.

Since 1999 the farm in Sewell has donated crops, mainly corn, squash and green beans, to New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger.

Run by the New Jersey Agricultural Society, a nonprofit agency, the program collects surplus crops and delivers them to a distribution center, often a church, where the food is divided among various hunger-fighting agencies at no cost. Since the program began in 1996 it has collected more than 12 million pounds of produce.

The arrangement between the Duffield farm and the program seems a perfect fit. The busy summer season makes it difficult for farm workers to distribute excess crops themselves, so the program picks up and delivers the produce.

"Without them we wouldn't be able to get all the food out, and it would be wasted," Duffield said.

Program coordinator Judy Grignon credits farms like the Duffields' for doing their part to reduce the burden of needy families.

"If it wasn't for our generous New Jersey farmers we wouldn't have these programs," Grignon said. "Farming is not a get-rich business, but farmers are still donating to us. I can't thank them enough."

The Duffields' produce goes mainly to distribution centers in Camden and Browns Mills, but the program also delivers to Mount Holly and Trenton weekly. With the rising costs of food and housing, the program faces a greater demand than ever.

"Often people have to decide if they want heat or food. We see that all the time," Grignon said.

Soup kitchens and food pantries may have large supplies of canned and non-perishable goods, which can contain high amounts of sugar and sodium. Many lack the fresh fruits and vegetables that farms like the Duffields' offer.

"Our fresh produce is a great complement to what they offer as well," Grignon said.

The Robson award was named for a Burlington County farmer who died in 2006. The Duffields received it at the New Jersey State Agricultural Convention on Feb. 5.

"Giving to the community and people in need is an important contribution to the quality of life in this state, and we need to honor the farmers who are doing that," said Charles Kuperus, secretary of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Local school systems have joined Duffield's Farm in the battle against hunger. The farm has a partnership with six Washington Township elementary schools, where approximately 650 third graders learn about the farm and help grow a charity garden as part of the science curriculum.

"Duffields are generous to our students with both time and their money," said Joanne Robertson, principal of Hurffville Elementary School.

Tracy Duffield visits the schools, teaching the children about agriculture. In turn, the students plant seeds, which are put in a Duffield's greenhouse to sprout, then transplanted to the fields. The children return to the farm to harvest the vegetables themselves, which are then donated.

"I think it's a good program for Washington Township," Duffield said. "It's a thriving town and most of these kids don't know what it's like to be hungry."