Life on the Farm
A 300-year legacy blooms along the Delaware
By Sally Friedman

Just a simple turn off congested Route 130 in Cinnaminson will set you onto a gravel road that travels on and on. But take the journey, because where it ends is a place of natural beauty. Leafy trees line the road. Two Victorian houses from a time gone by sit along the river. This is worlds away from the SJ most Taylor River Side Farm is a remarkable link to SJ’s past. It’s the sort of spot that stands as a reminder of our region’s deep agricultural roots. Flashes of the Delaware River glisten in the background, and time itself seems to stand still in this rare rural paradise just minutes from strip malls and diners.

Farmer“Yes, it’s different,” acknowledges Peter Taylor, 46. He and his wife Lily are the 11th generation of Taylors living on this land. Their 10-year-old daughter, Abby, is the 12th.

The couple met, ironically, neither in Peter’s childhood home of Mays Landing nor in Toronto, Lily’s birthplace. Instead they almost literally bumped into one another on a street in Costa Rica. They did some traveling, then married and settled in Canada. Peter, a graduate of Haverford College and a man devoted to Zen principles, practiced social work there for over a decade. Lily, 48, worked in television production.

Back home, Peter’s father was running the farm – as his father had – until his death in 2001. When an older aunt and her husband began managing the farm as best they could, family members realized if the farm were to continue, someone needed to step forward and take over the reins. Family meetings were held with Peter and his closest relatives, including his brother and two sisters. Peter was the logical choice – and the willing one.

“There was a very great pull to come back to this place and to the farm that had been in our family for generations. It was the past, as well as the present and future, that motivated me,” says Peter.

An aerial view of Taylor Farm in the late 1960s

An aerial view of Taylor Farm in the late 1960s

That past began in 1720, when the Taylor family planted its roots in Chester Township, now Cinnaminson. The original tract of land was purchased in August, so this month marks 294 years since the legacy began.

The original tract consisted of 1,000 acres and included one full mile of Delaware River frontage. In the beginning, the owners planted vegetables, fruit, hay and straw.

By 1833, a small parcel of land was sold to the Camden and Amboy Railroad, which enabled trains to arrive daily from New York. Passengers on those trains could then be transported by mule-drawn stagecoaches to Camden.

Because of its location on the Delaware, crops were sailed directly to Philadelphia markets, and manure from city stables could be transported back to the farm to fertilize the fields.

Over the generations, the Taylor land continued to be farmed, and the family became prominent Quakers in the region, with deep connections to Westfield Friends School in Cinnaminson. Abby now attends the school.

Family treasures are everywhere on the property. Among the most cherished are a family Bible, which dates back to 1815, and a journal written in flowing hand by May Taylor, a bride who chronicled her daily life on the farm back in 1886.

One of several homes on the property is believed to date back to 1720, and the “new” home nearby, where May Taylor wrote about farm life, has “1886” carved into the cornerstone. For Peter, nostalgia lives in every corner and memories reside in every room of the 1886 “yellow house,” as it is known.

The Taylor’s Victorian home was built in the 1800s

The Taylor’s Victorian home was built in the 1800s

“My cousins and I used to race through the house; our grandparents were very tolerant,” Peter recalls. “We had wonderful times that included hiding in the woods all around us and of course going on hayrides.”

He also has fond memories of working with his grandfather and his father on the farm. In 1975, the Taylor Wildlife Preserve was dedicated as a conservation easement consisting of 86 acres. The preserve includes the marshland, a large section of the riverfront and some prime farm fields. The Taylors gave development rights for the land to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust, meaning this land is protected from development forever.

Today there is a 1.5-mile loop trail open to the public from dawn to dusk, where walkers can see up to 180 species of birds. The family has created the nonprofit Friends of the Taylor Wildlife Preserve to help sustain this natural setting.

While Taylor Farm does not have official certification as organic, Peter says the family has used organic processes for years. “If you make under $5,000 in a year, you don’t have to be certified to say you are organic,” he says. “So at first we didn’t need certification. But now we are over that amount, so we have to be certified, which is a three-year process. There’s a lot of record-keeping to complete, and the farm has to be inspected a number of times. But we’ve always used organic products on the farm.”

The Taylors say they are committed to maintaining a sustainable environment. It’s a huge order, and it’s labor intensive, but it is a sacred commitment. The Taylor family hired Master Gardener Lee Colley – known as Farmer Lee – to help farm the land; he also rents one of the properties on the farm. Currently their produce is part of the local emphasis on farm-to-fork at the nearby restaurant District Riverton Bistro. The farms’ produce is also available at both the Merchantville and Maple Shade farmer’s markets.

Follow Peter and Lily down a country road, past a field of purple blossoms that are actually weeds, but beautiful ones, and you’ll find yourself among their crops. If you’re lucky, you’ll see blue tomatoes – the more exotic of this farm’s offerings, along with 25 other varieties for a total of 987 tomato plants.

Eight varieties of eggplant are also growing, along with green and orange okra, and squash. Add snap peas, lettuces, red Russian kale and rose radishes. The Taylors host a pick-your-own stand open seven days a week in the summer.

The Taylors always welcome curious visitors as well as helpful hands. Volunteers are needed for everything from weeding to picking to chasing rabbits.

The whole purpose, suggests Peter, is to make this farm a community resource, a place for learning about agricultural life and to celebrate beauty in nature.

“We recognize that this is a unique piece of land – and this is our time with it, but it doesn’t belong to just us,” Peter says. “We keep it for the community as well as for ourselves. Many people feel a connection to this land. That’s what makes it what it is. We have so much community support. We know this isn’t just ours.”of us know. This is farm country, steeped in history and charm.

August 2014
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