The Burlington County Commissioners announced the selection of the Knezick family as the recipient of the county’s award for outstanding farm stewardship in recognition of the improvements and conservation practices at their Foggy Bottom Farm in Mansfield.
The Knezick family purchased the 125-acre property in 2016 and transformed it from a grain and Christmas tree farm into one that grows primarily native wildflower seeds used for habitat restoration and preservation programs.
“Everything we grow is to try to reclaim things humans have thrown out of sync,” said farmer Steve Knezick about the family’s operations at both Foggy Bottom and the family’s wholesale native tree and shrubbery nursery, called Pinelands Nursery.
While wildflowers and their seeds are the farm’s principal crop, Foggy Bottom is also among the first farms in New Jersey to grow hazelnut trees.
The hazelnuts are in high demand both in the U.S. and globally due to the popularity of spreads like Nutella and other nut butters, as well as other hazelnut products, such as ice cream, gelato and nut milks.
Until recently, growing the nuts in New Jersey was nearly impossible due to the trees’ susceptibility to Eastern Filbert Blight, a naturally occurring fungal disease known to destroy entire orchards of hazelnut trees. But years of research by Rutgers University researchers resulted in the introduction of specially cultivated hazelnuts that are resistant to the disease.
Foggy Bottom Farm is the first tree farm in the region to offer these special hazelnut trees.
The family is also working with a truffle specialist to inoculate some of the farm’s hazelnut trees with truffle spores to create truffle-infused hazelnut trees, a winning combination for growers looking to benefit from both in-demand products.
“It’s early but there’s definitely demand for the trees,” said Knezick, about his family’s 2-acre hazelnut orchard. “Our end goal is maybe to have 10 to 20 acres of hazelnut orchard.”
The Knezicks have also implemented several environmentally-friendly conservation practices on the farm, including the use of rain gardens to reduce runoff and nonpoint source pollution from fertilizer, planting buffer crops between ditches, removing invasive plants and employing no-till seeding, a process of planting crops into a field without drastically disturbing the soil through tillage.
In recognition of their work, the Knezicks were selected by the Burlington County Agriculture Development Board to receive the 2022 Bill and Dorothy Pettit Farm Stewardship Award, which recognizes the efforts of farmers to maintain and enhance the natural resources of their farm.
Promoting good stewardship is critically important in a county like Burlington where more than 60,000 acres of farmland has been preserved by the county and other entities. The county ranks No. 1 in total acreage of farmland preserved and No. 7 nationally.
“Good stewardship benefits the landowner, the public and our entire county and state,” said Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel, the liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation and Parks. “The example set by the Foggy Bottom Tree Farm is something we want to highlight to encourage more landowners to follow the same path.”
Knezick said his family was proud to receive the recognition as being good stewards of the land.
“Two hundred years from now, I want people to think, ‘That person was planting the right things and doing things right,” he said. “We really need to preserve some of the things we have.”