NJ tulip farms during COVID-19: OK to buy from, not to drive through
Holland Ridge Farms is a family-owned flower farm in the Cream Ridge section of Upper Freehold, Monmouth County.
Dalton Farms is a family-owned and run farm in Swedesboro, Gloucester County.
Both locations host flower festivals twice a year — tulips in the spring and sunflowers in the fall. This year, the coronavirus pandemic derailed the spring tradition, but Dalton was able to run a drive-thru attraction for nearly three weeks before being told by the state to shut down on Sunday.
Holland Ridge never had the chance, after owner Casey Jansen got a call the night before their planned start April 8.
Jansen said Monday that it was never his intention for another farm to be shut down and that he's very happy Keith Dalton, whom he considers a friend, was able to run his trail for as long as he did as "his costs are now covered."
Jansen said as for his situation, "I'm a million (dollars) in the hole," and still frustrated as to why he was singled out.
Dalton Farms had its opening day March 30, according to its Facebook page. The model was very similar to what Jansen said he had mapped out for his own farm this year, amid the public health crisis — visitors pay per vehicle to drive through the tulip fields, with no one exiting their car on the premise.
Both farms are considered essential businesses, under the state directive issued March 21 amid the novel coronavirus, Jansen said.
Aside from the roughly $ 1 million initial financial investment of planting millions of bulbs that are now blooming, Jansen said other costs included $8,000 in new signs and materials to rope off the drive-thru tulip trail that he thought was a go — until the abrupt call he received around sunset April 7, from state Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher.
According to Jansen, Fisher delivered news handed down from the state Attorney General's office that the trail still was considered an event, which is illegal under an executive order signed in March by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Jansen said they are continuing to do pre-paid pickup for cut tulip bunches and delivery through their website, but Sunday alone the farm saw a loss of roughly $100,000 by not being about to charge per vehicle to drive closer to the millions of flowers planned out a year ago.
Another consequence of the state order is the local traffic impact of not being able to utilize his full facility, Jansen said.
He said more involved traffic flow and parking plans that he presented to the township committee months ago went by the wayside when the state put a stop to the drive-thru element of this season.
State Police, which patrol for Upper Freehold, have visited Holland Ridge farm on a regular basis to ensure it is following protocols for the "barn side" pickup, Jansen said.
He adds the overwhelming support from the public is touching. Holland Ridge Farms is offering pre-paid, precut tulips for pickup or delivery through Mother's Day, as laid out on the farm website.
Jansen said his farm already have the bulbs for their sunflowers, which it typically plants the first week of May, in order to be ready for September.
As uneasy and stressful as the abrupt loss of a considerable chunk of spring business is, Jansen said farmers have to work ahead, so they'll have to hope for things to "get back to normal."
On its Facebook page Sunday evening, Dalton Farms said "As of 7 p.m. we were ordered to cease all operations by an Assistant Prosecutor from the State of New Jersey."
The long-time family farm, which has roots back to 1790, also continued "We're heartbroken to get this news in the middle of the day and would like to thank all those who came out over the last few weeks."
Dalton Farms also said it hopes to see visitors in September for sunflowers.
The state Attorney General's Office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.