Business & Finance

"It's Honest Dirt!" Family Celebrates 150th anniversary of Hillsboro Farm with New Country Market

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Doug and Lynn Van Nuys, owners of Hillsboro Farms, outside the newly opened Country Market. Credits: Rikki Lyn Hauss
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HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - About 600 sprawling acres of fruit and vegetable crops surround the Van Nuys as they stand on the porch of their newly-constructed Country Market at Hillsboro Farm.

Opened last month, the building represents 10 years of planning, anticipation and is the crowning achievement in the farm’s 150-year history, a journey marked by hard work, tragedy and determination.

The farm is Hillsborough Township's oldest active business.

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Like their ancestors before them, owners Doug, Lynn, and their family gaze towards the horizon daily, gaining inspiration for the next day and reflecting on how far their family has come.

Life as a farmer never comes easy.

Lynn recalls wondering whether all of the hard work and sacrifice was worth the effort during services on Easter Sunday in the Neshanic Reformed Church.

She tells the story of a pastor who asked the congregation to pause and reflect.

"If you have anything you want to ask God today, please do. He will always show you the answer."

After a few moments of reflection, the congregation picked up their psalm books and Lynn reached for hers. "On the inside cover was the name of my father-in-law, Doug's dad, who passed away years ago in the accident. It was like he was telling me we were doing the right thing, or a good job at the farm," she said.

The Van Nuys were best known for their excellence in dairy farming before two accidents in the 1980s changed things. Nearly 250 cows were in their herd and Peter Van Nuys is credited with the first successful cow born by artificial insemination.

There was a dramatic shift in fortune for the family in 1986 and 1987. First, their barn burned down, killing several cows; later the following year, Doug's father and brother were electrocuted when a piece of their farming equipment came in contact with electrical wires. 

Acres were sold off to handle expenses, but the family was able to save their farm. Renovations were made to the pre-revolutionary era farmhouse and the entire property was granted farmland preservation status just a day before New Year's Eve in 2009.

Today, the Van Nuys grow a wide variety of top-notch produce like Jersey corn, tomatoes, eggplants, and even sunflowers.

Doug and Lynn agree, "You're not going to get [foods] any fresher than what we've got here growing in this honest dirt."

Crops harvested from that “honest dirt” are sold in the new Country Market. Hillsboro Farm is located at 219 Hillsborough Road.

"This whole thing has really been a 10-year project," Doug explains. "It takes a great deal of time and commitment to make something like this happen. It's been an expanding business to meet the demands for our foods.

“With all the daily operation of a farm - and farm work is hard work - there's only so much we could do each week before seeing a final product," he added.

Both he and his wife worked full-time jobs in addition to handling affairs at the farm. They’ve since retired from those day jobs to work as full-time farmers.

They used to sell their produce from the back of a pickup truck, which grew into a series of wagons in an open-air setting that took advantage of their long driveway.

The new Country Market will be the focal point of Hillsboro Farm’s annual pumpkin harvest. The official grand opening and celebration is planned for Sept. 23.

There’s more good news on that horizon after what Doug calls "a long haul.”

The Van Nuys are looking forward to more visitors at the farm as the harvest season hits its peak, with several family-friendly activities planned on their quaint farmstead.

"Hopefully our visitors will get a chance to stop by and enjoy our new addition, especially as pie season rolls around,” Lynn said.

The Van Nuys will be opening a bakery inside the Country Market where visitors can buy fresh baked goods like apple cider donuts and strawberry rhubarb pies.

The family is also looking forward to the Pumpkin festival and this year's Craft and Yard sale on Sept. 9th.  The vendor fee of $10 will be donated to Farmers Against Hunger. 

The air is full of restored livelihood and the modest authenticity of a good old farm experience.

"I'm so proud to call Hillsboro Farm a great place for families especially. We try our best to keep it warm and welcoming, without being overwhelming. We take great pride in offering our guests very few lines, and never a parking fee," Doug said.

"It is exceptionally nice to see new faces with the opening of our Country Market. It is our best season in business yet!"

And, the Van Nuys are more than happy to send their visitors home with some of that “Honest Dirt” on the soles of their shoes and the treads of their tires – no extra charge.

Further information is available online at hillsborofarm.com

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