A family farm - now in the 12th generation

Taylor River Side Farm's Peter and Lily Taylor. They moved back to South Jersey from Toronto last year as freshmen farmers. Now, with a tenant's help, they're building a business centered on organic produce.
Taylor River Side Farm's Peter and Lily Taylor. They moved back to South Jersey from Toronto last year as freshmen farmers. Now, with a tenant's help, they're building a business centered on organic produce. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 09, 2014

The locally renowned lima beans will be back soon at Taylor River Side Farm in Cinnaminson.

The latest generations of Taylors are back already.

"It feels like home," Peter Taylor, 46, says, sitting on a grand Victorian porch that offers a silvery view of the Delaware River.

A child welfare worker and practicing Quaker who grew up in Atlantic County, Taylor had been living in Toronto until last summer.

After an aunt and uncle who had been tending the farm retired to California, Taylor moved back to South Jersey with his wife, Lily, and their daughter, Abby.

The 130-acre tract at the foot of Taylors Lane has been in his family since it was purchased in 1720 by Joshua Wright, into whose family Edward Taylor married in the late 1780s. Which makes Abby, who's 10, the 12th generation of her family on this land.

"It was an adventure coming here," says Lily, 48, a TV production professional. "It's not like either of us had any farming experience."

That's where Lee Colley and a bit of serendipity came in.

Colley, 40, his wife, Kathleen, and their three children rented a house on the farm last summer. He's a Georgia native, a Burlington County master gardener, and a former garden center employee with a passion for organic agriculture.

"I want to grow things that are going to excite people, make them say, 'I've never tasted anything like that,' " says Colley. Vegetables with "a history and a story" are more interesting, he notes, than those typically found in a supermarket.

Colley and Taylor chopped a lot of wood together during their first, seemingly endless winter on the farm. From their conversations and subsequent talks with their wives and families, a plan took root.

Taylor River Side, which had shrunk to a tiny, pick-your-own operation, would be reborn. The freshman farmers would start by cultivating two acres of the rich, moist fields of soil called Galloway sand - using sustainable, organic practices rooted in the Taylor family's Quaker agricultural traditions.

They would sell their crops at farmers markets in Maple Shade and Merchantville, and to restaurants such as District Riverton Bistro.

They would continue to rent the 50 community gardening plots to local residents. And they would make the farm a destination for families and foodies alike, a place to volunteer, play, and reflect.

"People in urban areas want to connect and create communities," notes Lily, the webmaster of taylorsfarm.org.

"There's a huge resurgence of people who don't want to put pesticides or herbicides in their bodies, or their kids' bodies," Colley says.

The tiny (12- by 20-foot) greenhouse on the farm came alive as winter waned. About 800 tomato seedlings, including an indigo specimen called "Blue Beauty" and 25 other heirloom and mainstream varieties, burst from containers. An additional 200 pots held other veggies, many of them donated by members of South Jersey's community of farmers.

What Taylor calls a "eureka moment" came in April, with the seeding of a plot of peas. "I would have liked to put them in three weeks earlier," Colley says, "but on St. Patrick's Day, it snowed."

On the day I visit, hot breezes billow from the river and across the land. A fierce sun pours over verdant rows of exotic and familiar varieties of tomato, eggplant, okra, squash, lettuce, spinach, peppers, melons, kale, snap beans, and more.

The farm uses no herbicides, so weeds are plentiful. Insects - Colorado potato beetles are the pest du jour - are voracious foes.

"We work all day, every day," Peter Taylor says. "It's not like driving to work and sitting at a desk, like I did in Toronto for 10 years."

In late June, they planted a small plot of the lima beans, descendants of the variety developed by Howard Gardiner Taylor Sr. in the 1880s.

The beans were a traditional Taylor crop for more than a century. And even as the farm dwindled in recent years, Peter Taylor's Aunt Kitty and Uncle Takashi kept growing them.

"My aunt and uncle considered these beans the soul of the farm," he says. "You can eat them off the vine, right out of the pod. They're like candy."

Sweet.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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