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History of Agriculture in Cumberland County

Welcome to Cumberland County - the "Garden Spot of the Garden State!" Agriculture has been an integral part of life and commerce in Cumberland County since pre-Revolutionary times.

Original inhabitants and farmers of Cumberland County were Lenni Lenape Indians. The name means "Original People." Upon their first arrival nearly 10,000 years ago, Lenni Lenape tribes found little open land. They established villages close to streams and burned the forests to create open tillable fields.

Indians knew the importance of good soil management. Wood ashes were turned into the soil; heads, tails and entrails of fish and game were buried for fertilizer. Weeds were destroyed, and water was supplied when necessary. Crops were simple -- corn, several kinds of beans, squash, pumpkins and melons.

Swedish immigrants were among the first European farmers in South Jersey, beginning to cultivate the soil in the mid 1600's. Farming expanded in Cumberland County until 1776, when many of the farms were devastated by the British in the American Revolution.

After the war ended, farms were rebuilt. Through hard work and diligence, many farmers became prosperous and respected in their communities. The oldest farm under continuous ownership is the Sayre-Howell farm in Cedarville. The family farm was started in 1697 by Joseph Sayre and consists of 200 acres. It is presently operated by James Howell, a direct descendant of Joseph Sayre.

An important contribution to 20th century agriculture in Cumberland County is the Italian-American farming community. They came to the United States in search of a better life around the turn of the century. Many initially settled in the coal mining areas of Pennsylvania and saved money to purchase farms. Later, they moved to Cumberland County, particularly near Vineland, where they hand-cleared land for production of truck crops .

One famous individual associated with agriculture in Cumberland County was Charles F. Seabrook. He was a pioneer in corporate agriculture, the commercial freezing of vegetables, and in the development of the nursery industry in South Jersey.

Seabrook founded Seabrook Farms Corporation near Bridgeton in 1933. Until 1976, this firm was one of the largest farming and frozen foods operations in the United States controlling production of over 30,000 acres of vegetable crops. Koster's Nursery was also initiated, becoming one of the most famous nurseries in the United States. From Koster's, were founded many of the nurseries now in existence in the area.

In 1978, three grandsons of Seabrook built a new $9.2 million frozen vegetable processing plant in Upper Deerfield Township. It is a modern plant, freezing snap beans, spinach, collards, mustard greens, peppers, peas and lima beans. Ninety-five percent of these are grown in Cumberland and Salem Counties. There are five other companies which process fresh-cut produce, make cider and brine pickles.

The New Jersey Tomato Council built a state-of-the-art packing facility in the county to handle all their skate-tomato production in New Jersey.