Last week, we celebrated seven years of bringing you our story online. This week, we thought it was time to hear directly from some of our friends in the industry. Welcome to our inaugural post in what will be an occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers!
For this first post, we spoke with our longtime friends and neighbors to the north, the Lee family! Steve Lee IV, the sixth generation of the Lee family to take an active interest in his family farm, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.
1. How long has your family been in the business?
The Lee Family has been farming in Speedwell since 1868. Lee Brothers, Inc. which is part of the Ocean Spray Grower-Owned Cooperative has been in continuous operation since 1949. Integrity Propagation, the cranberry industry’s first foundation-level nursery has been in operation since 2008. Currently the 5th, 6th and the 7th generations of the Lee Family are living and working on the cranberry production or greenhouse operation which encompasses Washington, Woodland and Tabernacle Townships.
2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?
The harvest season is by far the most special time of year for our family. When the crop is good, the harvest season can be very rewarding. When crops are not as strong as expected, harvest is more of a time to reflect on the decisions made during the past growing season and begin to create the playbook for the upcoming growing season. Either way, harvest is special because we celebrate our heritage and share it with visitors that want to experience the season and be “part of the crew”.
3. What has been your biggest challenge?
Challenges? What challenges? Keeping governmental regulations under control is by far the biggest issue. Collectively, our industry works on developing and nurturing our relationships with lawmakers to help with ever-increasing regulatory, manufacturing and horticultural challenges. Managing these relationships can sometimes be very time consuming.
4. What makes your operation unique?
For the most part, we all get along. Not all farm-families do, which could sometimes certainly be a problem. Historically, we have an outside-the-box approach to innovations that are geared towards improving overall operational efficiency and agricultural production. Many of the innovations developed here have become standard throughout the industry including but not limited to the ride-on harvester and fertilizer/spray buggy. Several members of our family have served and continue to serve in leadership positions in a variety of areas including government, associations, civic, religious, banking, and agricultural. We are also so fortunate to have enjoyed multiple generations of our family working together, and employees that have become part of our extended family. We are also very unique in having such a great relationship with our neighbors, the Haines Family.
5. What’s a legendary story in your family?
As with any farm family, we have many family stories. Some of the stories involving each of the generations of the Lee and Haines families are legendary, but probably not suitable for print. We are very fortunate to be part of a cooperative that truly is a multi-generational extended family. That was most evident on Labor Day 2012, when we were hit with about 13” of rain in roughly a 6 hour period. Although it rained throughout South Jersey, the hardest hit area was right here in Chatsworth, Speedwell, Hog Wallow and Pineworth. Once word began to get our on how much rain we had, support came in the way of equipment, manpower, food and phone calls to “check on us” and offer “anything we needed”. Certainly, the outpouring of concerns and support we received was not concentrated to that day or even that instance, but it clearly demonstrates the love, passion, support, and cooperation of the cranberry industry here in New Jersey.
The Lees are fantastic neighbors and even better friends, and we’re glad to have such good people in our community!
*Photo courtesy Steve Lee IV.