Fesity Pepper Grew from Family Hobby to Blooming Success
Editor’s note: This story was published exclusively in The Jefferson Chronicle DIGEST magazine prior to being made available online. To receive the DIGEST magazine when it is released digitally, subscribe free.
Tom Galfo may be the primary advocate for agriculture in Jefferson Township. He started the farmers market, which relocated this year to the parking lot of Firemen’s Field off Route 15, and constructed a farm store at his Weldon Road farm, The Feisty Pepper. He already has 50 members in his Community Supported Agriculture program.
Early season flowers provided a decorative look at the farm stand on Memorial Day weekend. Galfo’s partner, Hazel, prepared hanging baskets and pots of various sizes, and flats lined the front of the farmhouse. Many holiday arrangements were selling. “I have family members who served in all branches of the military,” said Galfo, noting that he cooks once a year for the Kenvil VFW where his uncle is a member.
The store, built in September, is the latest step in the transformation of the Galfo farm from hobby to vocation. While three generations of the family worked the land there, Tom and Hazel are the first full-time farmers. His parents and grandparents operated it as a hobby, selling vegetables when they had extra.
Tom and Hazel are both full-time farmers, which is rare in New Jersey. “It’s in my blood,” said Farmer Tom, explaining why he decided to turn the farm into a full-time operation. Although Hazel worked part-time elsewhere for a while, she found her attention was split – and she is too passionate about the farm for that.
Although they have no full-time employees, Billy Pugsley (17) is in his second year as an intern and thinking about farming as a career. Occasional help is also given by Hazel’s daughters – Dana (18) and Pia (13) Yaptangco, who live in Morristown. In addition, Tom’s parents, uncle, and niece assist as needed, keeping the Galfo farm truly in the family.
Early in the season, the produce in the stand is from south Jersey, with corn from Florida, and later it comes from Galfo’s 8.5 acres. The Feisty Pepper also stocks jams from Sparta Mountain Farm, milk and cheese from Springhouse Creamery, local meat, and eggs from their approximately 100 chickens.
The Feisty Pepper proprietors are committed to their community – so much that Galfo loaned several big pots to a mother who found herself having to play host to pre-prom photos at the last minute.
Customer service is also important to the proprietors. On that recent Saturday, Tom was telling a family that the CSA is for more adventurous cooks because of the variety of vegetables offered. Hazel was explaining the care of portulacas to another visitor. “Our specialty is the attention we pay to our customers,” said Galfo, observing that the public can get flowers at other stores, but not the care and relationship provided by a local farmer. “We remember their names and their kids’ names,” he said. “Customers feel like family members.”
According to Hazel, farm stands are an antidote to what is becoming a monolithic economy. She has lived abroad and seen how other countries have avoided an influx of big box stores. “Here we have a culture of convenience and have become slaves to time,” she said, lamenting that many children do not know where their chicken or vegetables come from.
Serving on the Morris County Agricultural Development Board is another way Galfo exercises his passion for farming. The board has protected 143 farms throughout the county, he said. “We can’t let farms go away because people see dollar signs.”