After our tour of the farm fields, and a downhill slalom ride in the Gator, I was eager to get inside the market. I was greeted by our old friend, Art, who handed me a steaming (and welcome) cup of fresh-brewed coffee. If you’ve never been to Wightman’s before, I have to warn you that your first encounter, (if it’s not with Art) will probably be with pie - berry, cherry, apple, peach - bubbling fruit fillings and flaky crusts baked daily and pulled steaming from the oven. If that’s too tempting, then definitely avert your eyes from the doughnut maker as it squirts out perfect halos of dough into a sizzling oil bath that fries them up to golden brown perfection before your eyes. But don’t worry, the market is overflowing with a sensory-overload of healthy treats, too… bins of dark romaine and leafy greens, an array of meaty heirloom tomatoes, tender stalks of budding asparagus, sacks of sugar-snap peas, bright yellow squashes... Alright, so I’m a sucker for baked goods and fresh vegetables. The whole scene had me gushing with enthusiasm but according to Nadine, I’m not alone in my admiration of the new Wightman Farms.
“Every single person that walks through the front door that is doing so for the first time since we’ve made the changes has this look of “Woooow” and “whoa……this is awesome!” said Nadine. “Some literally stop dead in their tracks to take it all in. It has been extremely fun to watch and be a part of. I’m so happy for Adam because he puts his heart and soul into this place every single day, and has done so for years, and it’s wonderful to see him get all of the positive feedback that’s coming in. He’s a REALLY good guy and deserves only good things.”
Wightmans Farms is located at 1111 Mt. Kemble Avenue, Morristown, NJ. wightmanfarms.com
The annuals and perennials in front of Wightman Farms in Morristown were popping in rows of vibrant summer colors, brightening an otherwise overcast summer morning. I was reluctant to leave their cheeriness behind, but Wightman Farms’ Manager, Nadine McEvoy, had commandeered one of the farm crew’s Gators to take me to the top of the fields to catch up to our photographer, Lauren Kearns, and Head Farmer, Adam Costello. A former director of creative services for an ad agency and regional sales manager of a winery, Nadine joined the Wightman Farms team in January, and is now a ubiquitous presence at the market.
“My ‘official’ title is Store Manager,” Nadine explained, “but I do a bit of everything.”
From the exacting selection of purveyors to the careful arrangement of goods and produce, she adds her input to every detail, except the farming.
“That’s all Adam and his crew,” she said.
It’s been an adjustment from the corporate world to the countryside of Morris County. Nadine admits that she never imagined herself working on a farm and that “every day brings something different” for her to deal with. But after your first encounter with her (be forewarned, she is a self-described “hugger”) you get the idea that she’s up to just about any challenge, and you soon realize why Adam Costello refers to her as his “awesome manager.”
“I can’t say there’s much that I don’t like. It’s so beautiful here and the work has meaning. It’s very fulfilling. Feels good at the end of the day, tired but it’s a good tired. If that makes sense,” she said. “Life sometimes brings you to places that you never imagined, and for me, the trip has been amazing.”
For Nadine, part of that “amazing trip” includes a daily commute to and from Fort Lee. Sitting in my rumpled rain coat, holding on for dear life, I thought about that frenetic trek as she bounced the gator up the hill at full throttle, over a muddy, rain-slick path. But the wet head and white knuckles were well worth the trip as I gazed through the mist, over the red farm buildings below and endless expanse of trees stretching out towards New Vernon.
Only Good Things
By Chris and Lee Wolfe ● Photos By Lauren Kearns
From such a vantage point, it was easy to see why Albert and Laetitia Wightman chose this spot to start a farm nearly 90 years ago. Back then, Albert would drive out to Morristown to sell the harvest from his fruit orchards out of the back of a pick-up truck. Eventually folks started coming out to the farm for their freshly-pressed sweet cider and produce, which was sold from a roadside table under a mulberry tree across from the farm. Three generations later, Wightman’s is now a landmark destination for visitors who flock here during late summer and early fall from as far as Long Island to pick their own peaches and apples, gobble up ears of roasted Jersey sweet corn, and embark on tractor-drawn hayrides. Many have been coming since they were kids and now bring their grandkids to enjoy the same New Jersey farm experience.
In 2002, Albert and Laetitia’s grandson, Kenneth Wightman, who was born on the farmstead and started driving a tractor when he was 11-years old, placed a vast section of the 150-acre property in farmland preservation.
"We didn't want to destroy what we've spent so many years building," he told a local paper.
Now semi-retired, Kenneth and his wife Elizabeth have passed on the day-to-day operations of the farm to their venerable farm foreman, Adam Costello, who had spent the better part of the mid-morning posing for our photographer in front of sprouting greens, blushing strawberries, and fruit trees dripping with ripe cherries.
Adam, who admitted on this drizzly day, that his favorite and least favorite part of farming is “being outside and being outside,” has been tilling the land at Wightman’s for 25 years and started working at the market when he was 14, sweeping the floors and stocking the freezer.
“My sister was working here and the pay was better than babysitting!” he said.
Working full-time at Wightman’s while pursuing a degree in history at Montclair State University, Adam realized after graduation that he was already doing what he loved. Born and raised in Morristown, he now resides in Cranford, with his wife Jessica, and their son, Ethan, and daughter, Lily. Jessica is also a farmer and works on her own family farm in Union County.
“We don’t compete,” said Adam. “In fact, it’s a very supportive cycle that we have. At Wightman Farms we grow what she doesn’t and vice versa. We swap back and forth regularly and as needed so everything is fresh.”
Abigail Villa helps on the family farm.
While Wightman’s has definitely become a day-trip destination, it’s still a favorite hometown market for locals eager to bring home the market’s famous pies and cider doughnuts, fresh produce, and more recently, CSA shares brimming with seasonal good eats.
“We are always trying new varieties to find the best fruits and vegetables,” said Adam, who has recently been experimenting with different types of cherries and artichokes to add to their harvests.
Adam has also made some changes to the market since he took over. It still has the aura of the old farm stand that customers have known and loved, but it’s more spacious and has the bright, airy feeling of an outdoor farmer’s market.
“We just renovated the Farm’s Market to make it more relevant,” Adam said, in the humble manner you’d expect from a family farmer.
In addition to farm harvests and store-baked goodies, customers can now find everything they need to make a meal at home, or take home one already prepared from their array of store-made and artisanal products.
“Our goal is high quality, small batch products, so we are working with local and regional artisans and producers,” Adam explained. “We know many of our partners personally. It’s really important to us to build relationships and nurture a sense of community with our own employees and with the people that we work with. Hopefully this will extend beyond us so everyone that comes in feels like they are a part of something special.”
A little rain did nothing to dampen that “sense of community” during the farm’s “Welcome Back” re-opening celebration in April. Purveyors of products available in the market were spread out under tents in the parking lot, sharing tasters of their wares with friends and visitors who had the chance to sample everything from Griggstown Farm turkey and chicken burgers, “Flying Meatballs,” and Nicola’s Pasta Fresca, to Patricia and Paul’s infused olive oils, and Finding Home Farms’ maple syrup. Other standouts included Cide Road’s Maple and Ginger Switchel, Berry Cheese from Springhouse Creamery (the Red Pepper was also outstanding), Windy Brow Farm’s incredible Juniper and Lime Ice Cream (sounds weird – tastes great), an exotic Caribbean-inspired Bajan BBQ Sauce from Bernardsville’s own Hungry Uncle, and Wightman’s truly decadent Cider Doughnut Bread Pudding – that’s right – CIDER DOUGHNUT BREAD PUDDING!