Duke Farms welcomes guests again while focusing on food donations
HILLSBOROUGH — Even though staffers began to develop reopening plans almost immediately following a March 13 closure, it took two-and-a-half months before Duke Farms was permitted to start putting those plans into motion, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be widely felt across the 2,740-acre property.
More than a thousand of those acres are open to the public, including 20 miles of trails. But right now, the trails are only serving 50% of normal capacity, with all buildings closed except for restrooms, and the grounds have not yet reopened on weekends.
Still, Nora DiChiara, director of programs and strategic planning, said being able to reopen the trails at all has been a positive in a year full of negatives.
"That mental health aspect of just getting out is so important to people, so we really do feel like we're providing essential services and resources to people, and it makes us feel so proud," she said.
The farm market is also back open, allowing for masks and social distancing.
DiChiara said much of the staff's focus has turned to moving its educational programs online, and reopening a Community Garden to a membership of more than 450 people.
Out of that garden, plus a full-fledged agriculture department, has come thousands of pounds of food donations to New Brunswick-based Elijah's Promise, Feeding Hands of Somerville, and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. So far, Duke Farms has distributed more than 2,000 pounds each of beef and vegetables, 750 dozen eggs and another 2,000 pounds' worth just from the gardens.
Usually, a lot of that produce would be used in the cafe on premises, which is open at least for outdoor dining, but the staff redirected its supply to where it was needed most in a crucial time.
Of course, the more help Duke Farms can get with these efforts, the better.
"We're always accepting volunteers," DiChiara said. "It may be a couple days before we get in touch with you, as we're still at March levels of staffing, but we will get in touch with you."