I love coming to Demarest Farms and visiting the farm store and the grounds. It is like a step back into time. When I was a young child, I used to come down to the old farm stand that was across the street and pick up corn and tomatoes with my aunt who lived around the corner from the stand. In the 1990’s, the family opened the farm store across the street which used to be the old cornfields right next to the Garden State Parkway and a new tradition was born.
In 1991, they build the big store across the street.
Sometimes you just come across a place that has the whole package. Good food at a fair price, a nice selection on the menu and good service. I was working in the the neighborhood where Pompeii Little Market is located and stopped in for a Coke.
What I found was a delightful little deli that is part grocery and part deli with a nice selection of wraps, hoagies and subs, salads and panini’s. There was a small selection of hot foods and specials of the day. They also have a small selection of breakfast items and sandwiches in the morning.
I went in for lunch another afternoon for one of their sandwich specials and had their Italian hoagie special which was $5.95 for this large sub that…
Well, Christmas is finally officially over for me. It was one for the books. The holiday season just came and went without much fanfare or activities. Nothing like last year which was a lot of running around visiting decorated homes or running to the next cocktail party or dinner. Those things just did not exist this year. This season was all about the outside walking tours and small get togethers.
The whole holiday season became a blur and I started to attend a lot of outdoor activities that became available. Anything to get out of the house and see people or go do something out of the ordinary. I really had to search things out.
They started closest to home. I was trying to split my time between places that were just a drive away, going back and forth to the Hudson River Valley, which gave me a change of scenery and walking the neighborhoods of Manhattan, which gave me a sense of purpose as I felt I was supporting the City by being a cheerleader for all it had to offer even in the era of COVID.
My holiday journey started with the delivery of 375 Christmas trees for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. It was a big undertaking for a major charity that supports graduating high school seniors with scholarship money for college. I sometimes wonder if these students know what we go through to get the funds.
The trees were really nice this year
I have never seen so many Christmas Trees fly off a lot so fast. The membership of the Men’s Association got there at 9:00am and the truck arrived at 10:15am. We sold our first tree at 11:30am as we were tagging them. I stayed the entire day from 9:00am to 10:00pm when we closed the lot down for the evening. In the three shifts that I was there with the other guys, we sold 45 trees which we have never done our first day of sales.
The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association at set-up 2020
We were completely sold out by December 11th which I have never seen before. It seemed in the era of COVID everyone reverted back to the 1970’s and wanted a fresh Christmas tree for their home. I thought this was wonderful and people could not have been more supportive to our organization.
Please read my blog on “Christmas tree sales in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ”:
Please watch the commercial I did in 2015 to sell our trees
The first week of December means “Open Houses” at some of our merchants in Downtown Hasbrouck Heights. I look forward to seeing all the Christmas merchandise being offered, all the bouquets created for the event and the beautiful Christmas windows that our florists in town have done.
Bill O’Shea’s Florist at 231 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ always has a nice gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year was like no other but it did not keep a nice crowd of residents from coming out and looking over ideas for floral displays, house decorating ideas and listening to festive holiday music all while nibbling on prepackaged treats and bottled drinks.
Bill O’Shea’s has some of the nicest displays at the holidays
In a normal year, it would be hot chocolate and coffee with freshly baked goods but COVID has changed the way these businesses are run. Everything had to be prepackaged and most people at it outside as juggling and shopping with a mask on was tough.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend we set up the Christmas Tree lot for the Men’s Association, Heights Flower Shoppe at 209 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ had their Open House and that was equally as nice.
Heights Flower Shoppe is housed in a turn of the last century home that dates back to the original founding of our downtown and has a very classic boutique look to it. The store was stocked with all sorts of Christmas decorations, homemade candies, decorative household gifts and beautiful floral displays as well as outside had decorated wreathes and grave blankets.
The homemade candies and Christmas decorations adorn the store
Like Bill O’Shea’s, there was all sorts of packaged holiday treats to enjoy including Italian sodas, small bags of homemade Christmas cookies and candies. Last year they had a nice assortment of cookies and small sandwiches with coffee, tea and punch so there are always holiday treats to nibble on too here as well.
All of Downtown Hasbrouck Heights was beautifully decorated for the holidays with wreaths on all our lamp posts, Christmas lights on the trees, merchants display windows decorated to the hilt and Christmas music playing.
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always so nicely decorated for the holidays
This year because of COVID, the Annual Holiday Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting were cancelled in town but they did have a small get together at the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights to light the town Christmas tree. It was lit from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany on January 6th. It is always a beautiful site when entering town from the west side of town.
The Christmas Tree on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Even the little Neil Parrot playhouse, a local landmark in Hasbrouck Heights, was decorated for the holidays and was lite up at night as well.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights awaiting Santa
There were several nights of my aunt and I exploring the town and driving block by block to see all the decorated homes. Hasbrouck Heights and the surrounding towns of Lodi and Wood Ridge always do a wonderful job decorating for the holidays but with everyone being home and COVID hitting the area hard, people wanted to really decorate and make this year even more festive. Between the merchants and home owners, they made this time of year in Hasbrouck Heights very festive.
Please read my blog on Visiting Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ:
I did not just celebrate Christmas in Hasbrouck Heights. I ventured into other parts of New Jersey, to New York City and my usual haunts in the Hudson River Valley but like New Jersey, New York State was on a lock down as well and all the decorated mansions and holiday gatherings were all cancelled as well. So everyone did their best to celebrate outdoors and have all sorts of tours and small get togethers. You had to move fast when reserving these events as they did fill up because everyone wanted to get out of the house and see things.
The Sinterklaas Parade that I have participated and volunteered at for so many years was cancelled because of COVID but like the Halloween Parade, the committee put together a video of the parade to share with the world. Still it did not compare to the excitement of walking down the hill with stars and music lighting up Downtown Rhinebeck, NY.
The noble Frog was to be our mascot for this year’s Sinterklaas Parade
It was not the same as the year before where the crowds kept getting larger and larger every year. The whole town came to life with activities, songs, lights and laughter but was silent that weekend except for people having dinner in town. I was able to sneak up during the week. The entire town was decorated with white lights and beautifully decorated store windows. Rhinebeck is one of those towns in the Hudson River Valley that looks straight out of a Currier & Ives woodcut.
Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas
Since all the Christmas parties and get togethers were cancelled, it gave me more time to look into other outdoor events. I went to a special “Historical walking tour at the Holidays” at the Bergen County Historical Society in River Edge, NJ. The tour was lead by Historical singer and lecturer, Linda Russell, who explained the traditions of the Dutch Christmas all while singing Colonial Christmas songs in between the talks at each historical house on the property.
The Steuben House at Christmas
Actors dressed in costumes (and masks of course-COVID is still going on) danced in the Steuben House ballroom as colonialists celebrating the holiday, Dutch housewives putting their children to bed while awaiting Sinterklaas. There was a Dutch wooden shoe with carrots for his horse outside the door and mistletoe on the ceiling.
Linda Russell performing and lecturing at the Bergen County Historical Society
There was a discussion on the Pagan traditions of bringing ‘greens’ from outside inside to have a bit of ‘live nature’ into the home. So mistletoe, pine and holly adorned homes during the winter months as these things were green and brought a bit of life into the dead of winter.
The last part of the lecture was done in front of the Campbell-Christie House with a visit from Sinterklaas himself. We had a short talk about who Sinterklaas was and his part in the holiday season. Then all the members of the tour enjoyed refreshments and got a goody bag when we left with holiday sweets. The lecture and songs were a nice way to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season.
My favorite song by Linda Russell “I saw Three Ships”
As I was finishing up the semester at the College, I was getting holiday preparations done at the house, having small gatherings of family and friends and trying to be COVID safe. I was also running in and out of the City finishing my blog on Kips Bay before the holidays started getting busier. I learned a lot of New York’s Colonial past from walking around this area of the City.
My blogs on the Walking the neighborhood of Kips Bay:
The next weekend I made my last trip of the season to Long Beach Island to visit Beach Haven and the tour the rest of the island one last time before winter set in. It had really closed down since Halloween. I expected it to be much busier with more people moving down there on a permanent basis. Driving up to the lighthouse, I saw more dark homes then lite ones.
I wanted to take one more tour of Long Beach Island to see how they celebrate Christmas at the shore. They do things very quietly in Beach Haven. I went to the Surflight Theater to see the only play I had seen since I attended Carnegie Hall last Christmas to see the play “We need a little Christmas” which I had seen advertised at the theater over the summer.
“We need a Little Christmas” at the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ
After the theater, it was surprisingly warm that afternoon hovering around 58 degrees so I walked to the beach one block away and walked on the Jersey shore for my only time that year and for the first time on Beach Haven beach since 1975. It has been a long journey since that time.
The Beach Haven beach was beautiful that afternoon
The town’s Christmas trees were across the street from the theater on the square just off the downtown. Even they had a subdued Christmas at the shore and the whole event welcoming in the season was done virtually.
Christmas in Beach Haven, NJ adapted like the rest of the world
My holiday dinner was spent at the Chicken or the Egg that evening and it was really good. The menu is so extensive and innovative. It was hard to make choices.
Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream sandwich at Chicken or the Egg
Their fried chicken sandwiches are really good and their Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream sandwich should not be missed.
The Chicken or the Egg at 207 North Bay Avenue in Beach Haven
I was able to tour the whole island that afternoon before it got dark and even at twilight here and there were signs of Christmas in small trees lit in the shopping areas and decorated homes. It is an interesting place at the holidays with the waves crashing in the background.
My blog on “Exploring Downtown Beach Haven and Long Beach Island, NJ”:
The next week was finals week at the College and I had to give my final exam. The students also finished work on their case study, “Bud N’ Mud”, a simulated flower/coffee shop I had the students develop. It was interesting to see how a group of student entrepreneurs would create a store with their own ideas on how to grow the business. This project ended the Fall semester.
One of my favorite logo’s from the “Bud N’ Mud” project
With the Christmas trees selling out by December 11th, we held our annual Christmas party at the Christmas tree stand site for the Men’s Association. It was a cool not cold night and we all huddled around the fire taking alternate turns hitting the makeshift buffet table and enjoying good conversation. It was a great way to end the year successfully and there will lots of scholarships being given out at the end of the school year.
The last big event before Christmas came was the Sunday before Christmas with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department holding our Annual “Santa Around Town”. Because COVID was growing, the event was revamped from previous years and instead of stopping at sites all over town, we drove down each street in town slowly, having Santa wave and greet people who were on their lawns, driveways and porches. The residents of Hasbrouck Heights seemed touched by it and I could tell from the safety of the fire truck that the kids got a kick out of seeing Santa. People really needed the pick me up in holiday spirit at the time.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at “Santa Around Town” 2020
On the Tuesday before Christmas after I finished work with my other job I needed a break and wanted to go on a road trip to the Hudson River Valley again. I was nostalgic for Christmas’s past and decided to visit some of the towns Upstate.
I explored Downtown Woodstock first seeing their very unusual Christmas tree in the square. I have to say one thing about Woodstock, they do pick out the most interesting tree to sit in the square. It always looks more surreal than traditional. Their annual “Santa Parade” was cancelled this year as well and they did a drive by with Santa at the Woodstock Fire Department who runs the parade.
Downtown Kingston, NY was next on the list. Talk about a town in transition. In the almost three years since I have been visiting Kingston, I have never seen a downtown change so rapidly. The businesses there have gone from all this ‘hippie granola’ businesses to all these antique furniture stores and art galleries and some really expensive restaurants. One of the locals told me the new residents are “Brooklynizing” Kingston.
Still the downtown was nicely lit for the holidays and their Christmas Tree while small is nicely lit for the holidays on the edge of the downtown “Stockade” district. The Dutch Reformed Church on the other end of downtown was nicely lit with wreaths on the doors.
I crossed the river and drove to Red Hook, NY which I love. Their downtown looks like an old fashioned shopping district straight out of another Currier & Ives print. All the little stores were decorated with garland and white lights and the merchants decorated their windows to the hilt.
My last stop on my search for the perfect picturesque Hudson Valley River town was returning to Rhinebeck, NY for the day. Rhinebeck was quiet on this Tuesday evening as most of the restaurants were closed and the shops had closed for the evening. Still it was nice to walk around and admire the while lights on the trees and admire the display windows.
The Christmas lights and windows of Downtown Rhinebeck, NY
Even the way I celebrate Christmas changed this year. Instead of spending time with my family, I spent three days in Manhattan with my best friend, Maricel, at a hotel in Times Square. Neither of us had the time to travel and we both had to work in the City, her at her hotel and me working on my blogs so both of us needed the rest.
AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street
We stayed at the AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street. What the room lacked in size, it made up in the view and in the location. We were one block from Port Authority, two blocks from Times Square and within walking distance from all the Christmas attractions from Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas windows and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
While Maricel worked on Christmas Eve, I walked around the City. I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center which was loaded with people not keeping socially distanced. I admired the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue which had a New York City theme with Christmas scenes from around the City “This is how we Celebrate”.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas Themed window “Over the East River and Through the Neighborhoods to Grandfather’s House We Go”
Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree was even more special this year
I thought the windows at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf-Goodman really lacked in creativity. Bloomingdale’s was having a bad year and Bergdorf’s had just gotten sold again (forth time since I worked there in 2004) so I did not expect much. With Lord & Taylor declaring bankruptcy earlier in the year and closing the main store on Fifth Avenue and B. Altman’s long gone and Macy’s going mechanical for the last few years, the excitement of seeing the windows has been less than enthusiastic.
Still it was nice to walk around Midtown after leaving the Rockefeller Center area and just walking around Third, Park and Madison Avenues. By 7:00pm, everything had shut down for the night and the streets were really quiet. What was eerie was when walking down Park Avenue and looking up and seeing so many dark buildings. The area looked abandoned with so many apartment lights out. I wondered where everyone went?
When Maricel got off work, I brought in dinner 9th Avenue Deli at 769 Ninth Avenue. I brought in a juicy cheeseburger and chicken fingers which we shared and then dug into. The perfect comfort food on a cool night. Christmas Eve was a mild 59 degrees and it was nice to walk around.
9th Avenue Deli at 769 9th Avenue
We just hung out the whole night and watched movies in the hotel room. I went to bed early and sunk into the wonderful Marriott hotel bed. Marriott had the best hotel beds and every time I stay at one of their hotels, I slept like a log.
Christmas Day we just relaxed in the room and I called many members of my family to wish them a Merry Christmas. While Maricel went to work, I decided to start touring neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Rose Hill and NoMAD in preparation in my walks there. It started out being a cold, cloudy day and there was barely anyone on the street. I saw a few people walking their dogs and that was about it until about 3:00pm. It them cleared up and was a mild 55 degrees until it got dark and then cooled down.
What really shocked me about Times Square was how dirty it was on the streets. They had not picked up the garbage on Christmas Eve day and did not pick it up until after Christmas Day so between the theaters being boarded up and the ply boards filled with graffiti, hotels closed and restaurants shut, the whole Theater district looked like NYC circa 1975. It was creepy how the pandemic was affecting the business of this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Murray Hill, Rose Hill, NoMAD and the Flatiron District were really quiet that morning and early afternoon. All the restaurants and stores were dark, three hotels had closed in the district and I saw just a few people milling around. Things changed as I got closer to Macy’s Herald Square.
When walking around Koreatown, which runs between Sixth and Fifth Avenues between 35th to 32nd Streets, the side streets were teeming with Korean couples and groups of family members dining in the outdoor restaurants and cafes. This neighborhood was really jumping and full of life.
As the day wore on by 5:00pm, the rest of the City came back to life and more restaurants and stores opened up. Christmas morning and afternoon were now over and I could tell that people wanted to get out of the house (probably to get away from the family celebrations). When Maricel returned, I ordered in dinner from Golden City Chinese Restaurant at 423 Ninth Avenue, one of the few neighborhood restaurants open and we our dinner in the room. The food was okay. It was nice to just eat in the room and relax.
Christmas dinner was Lemon Chicken and Fried Rice from Golden City Chinese Restaurant
We checked out at noon on the 26th and she left for work that afternoon, I headed into Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. Both were really quiet that day. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was mostly dormant for the winter and most of the garden was closed off because of COVID. The “Studio 54” exhibition had long closed at the Brooklyn Museum so I just wondered the halls and looked at some of the changes in the permanent exhibitions that they had. I left the City for home early that evening.
The last week of the holiday, I entertained family at a Lasagna and Champagne dinner I had a the house. Since I was not able to spend time at home during the holidays, my aunts came over to my house and we had a three course meal with champagne and wine. We spent the whole night laughing and enjoying the evening.
New Year’s Eve was a quiet evening at home alone talking with other friends who were staying home alone as well. Times Square was empty that evening with the exception of the 350 first responders who were invited to the ball drop. When I watched it on TV it was eerie to see it so quiet. There was no one for blocks except police guarding Times Square.
I headed back up to the Hudson River Valley again on New Year’s Day to go on two walking tours in Staatsburgh, NY at the Mills Mansion. It was the Annual “First of the Year” walking tours and it was a cool, crisp morning for a walking tour of the property. There were two tours that morning, one was on “Winter Activities in Victorian Times” with us learning about all the winter activities that the residents here enjoyed like skating , sledding, ice boating and horse drawn sleigh rides.
Staatsburgh, the Mills Mansion in the winter
The other tour later that afternoon was on “Ice Harvesting in the Hudson River Valley” , where we learned about how the ice harvesting of the Hudson River was a big business before the advent of refrigeration. Large slabs of ice were cut from the river, floated down stream and then packed in straw awaiting sale over the metropolitan area for peoples ice boxes throughout the year. It just gave me anther excuse to visit the region I love so much.
My blog on the Mills Mansion on VisitingaMuseum.com:
Another local event that was COVID safe was a driving tour through the “Holiday Lightshow” at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. This was the first time that the farm opened the apple and peach orchard across the street from the farm stand. I saw this display the last week it was open and even after the holidays, it was a special treat as we awaited the Epiphany.
Driving through the display only took about forty minutes but was a delight in the senses and sounds. I played the classical music station as I drove through and admired all the colorful lights on the now dormant trees while Santa’s and Snowmen winked and waved and toy soldiers lit the way through the dark field. Even the Demarest homestead was ablaze with lights.
Demarest Farms at 244 Werimus Drive in Hillsdale, NJ
My blog on “Visiting the Farms of Bergen County, NJ at Christmas”:
Don’t miss this holiday lights ride through the orchard in 2021
The holiday event I visited was the Bronx Zoo for their “Holiday Lights” event at the zoo. It was the last night of the event and I arranged for the tickets that afternoon. The zoo gave me a 30% discount to go that evening and I was on the subway ride up to the Bronx.
The Bronx Zoo Light Show
I was really impressed by the display. The entire park was decorated with white lights, with different sections of the park decorated with different themes such as jungle animals, aquatic mammals and all sorts of assorted elephants, seals, penguins, lions, tigers and bears (oh my haha). There were costumed characters to take pictures with and they even had the Bug Carousel open that evening. I got a kick out of riding this since I had not done this since I was a little kid.
The Bronx Zoo musical Christmas Tree in the old part of the zoo
In the older section of the park, they had zebras on stilts and a musical Christmas trees that had an interesting soundtrack of contemporary Christmas songs. Even though Christmas had been over now for almost two weeks, it me back into the Christmas spirit.
So there was the Christmas holidays in the era of COVID. Lots of outdoor activities in hot and cold weather. Many walking tours and more subdued events. Gone were the cocktail parties and big formal dinners and in their place were many more smaller outdoor events and communicating with nature.
Maybe we all needed to take a break from the more formal traditions and go back to the basics of family and friends. I think this was a reflective year and realizing what is important. It had not changed that much for me. I just adjusted to the times, wore a mask and got going. Staying safe and keeping others safe is what is all about.
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.
When you think of the words ‘rural’ and ‘farmland’ these are not terms you hear a lot in Bergen County, NJ, one of the heaviest populated counties to surround New York City. Yet the county has a rich history in farming and agriculture from the late 1600’s up into the 1970’s when development pressures got too strong and most of what was left of the farms of the area got plowed over for development.
Early in our county’s history, the Dutch and then the English supplied much of the fruits and vegetables for the New York City markets. Much did not change until the suburban expansion after WWII and many strawberry, celery and potato farms were plowed under for shopping malls and housing developments. Since that time and with the help of the Right to Farm Act, The Open Space Act and Farmland Preservation of the State of New Jersey, it is helping many small farmers in the state preserve their land for agriculture.
“From Revolution to Renewal” our Historical Bergen County project
This is why in Bergen County we revere our farms and our agricultural past. Last semester when I taught Marketing at Bergen Community College, I had my students create an extensive project describing and promoting our Colonial Heritage and our agricultural past. This included promoting many of our remaining farms.
Our small farms in Bergen County do more than just provide fruits and vegetables for our tables. They are open air classrooms to our agricultural past, places to buy fresh produce and baked goods to support local family farm stores and for interesting special events and outings for families. During the holiday season, some of these farms have haunted hayrides, turkey pardons and visits from Santa all while selling Christmas trees and wreaths.
This lead me to explore many of the small farms that make up the fabric of Bergen County all while seeing how the owners are reinventing the way they do business with today’s consumer. How do we react with nature and the great outdoors? So I walked through farm stands and fields and across parking lots looking for our rural past in the year 2020.
I drove to Closter, NJ on my first stop to Old Schraalenburgh Farm and Farm Stand at 40 Old Hook Road and the Abram Demaree Homestead at 110 Schraalenburgh Road on the corner of Schraalenburgh Road. For years I had passed this farm and never gave it much thought until two summers ago I noticed the sign for the ‘farm burger’ and had to stop to see what it was all about. What a burger! (see my review on TripAdvisor).
Old Schraalenburgh Farm in the warmer months of Spring
I have since have had lunch here many times mostly when the weather is warmer. What I love about the Old Schraalenburgh Farm is that it is under the radar from most of the commercial farms in the county like Abma and Demarest farms which have all the family activities like hayrides and pumpkin and apple picking events. Old Schraalenburgh has a smaller restaurant and bakery and in the summer months tables outside to eat breakfast and lunch while admiring the fields of flowers and the barns and chicken coops.
What I love about their restaurant is the quality of the food here. The ‘Farm Burger’ which they tout so much is much worth the ride here. This juicy burger loaded with cheese and fresh vegetables and a mayo type sauce and is a mouthful in each bite. Bring your appetite because this burger is large! (see review on TripAdvisor).
The “Farm Burger” at the Old Schraalenburgh Farm Stand restaurant
Their chicken pot pie is another lunch item I would recommend. They make them fresh here and bake them with a golden crust and when you let it cool is a mouthful of creamy sauce, hunks of chicken and fresh vegetables. You won’t need dinner after this entree.
For dessert though, even with the options of their fresh brownies and homemade ice cream, you have to try their freshly baked fruit pies and pie cookies. The chocolate and fruit filled pie cookies resemble small fruit filled deep dish pies and are a delight in every bite.
The blueberry pie cookies
During the summer months, it is fun to walk through the fields and admire all the beautiful rows of flowers growing and visiting the barn and chicken coops. During the holiday months, the store and restaurant were decorated for Christmas and were stocked with handmade gifts and artwork. The bakery section had a selection of meat and fruit pies for the holidays.
The bakery case at the farm
Walking across the street to the Abram Demaree Homestead and Farm across the street from the farm stand, the main house and barn were also decorated for the holidays. All the tables, counters and shelves were stock with all sorts of decorative objects, antiques, furniture and artwork. These treasures can decorate any home contemporary or historical.
The antiques and holiday decorations at the Abram Demaree Homestead
Off to the side of the main building, they were selling Christmas trees and holiday decorations for the home. The buildings with Christmas retro items and tree ornaments really put me into the holiday spirit. The homestead is fun to walk around in to see how our Colonial past played a part in the growth of Bergen County.
History of the Old Schraalenburgh Farm and the Abram Demaree Homestead:
In 1769, Abram Demaree bought the house and ran it as a General Store and Tavern at the crossroads of one of the busiest intersections of colonial roads in Bergen County. His son, David, added to the house in 1809 (Farm History website).
The Abram Demaree Homestead in the Summer months
In the 1970’s, the house and property was falling apart and a group of citizens fought to get the homestead on the National Register of Historic Places. Since then, the home and farm have been part of a non-profit, The Demaree Homestead & Farm, with all the proceeds going to restoring and maintaining the home and farm. The farm and farm stand cafe are open to the public and the profits go to maintenance of the property. The Farm Stand Cafe features in season items grown right on the farm (Farm History website).
Across Old Hook Road from the Demaree Homestead is their working farm, The Old Schraalenburg Farm, which has been continuously farmed since the 18th Century. Every Spring, the farm plants corn, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, apples, blueberries and pumpkins, among other fruits, vegetables and flowers (Farm History website).
Leaving the Old Schraalenburgh Farm, I headed down Old Hook Road on my way back to Westwood and stopped at the Old Hook Farm Stand for a look at their Christmas trees. The Old Hook Farm Stand is at 650 Old Hook Road in Emerson.
The Old Hook Farm at 650 Old Hook Road in the summer months
What I like about the Old Hook Farm is the selection of grocery products in their General store. They have an assortment of organic meats, dairy products, vegetables and baked goods that include delicious looking freshly baked pies and cider doughnuts.
Their shelves are stocked with all sorts of jellies, jams and condiments along with dry and snack goods that are accented by antiques and farm paraphernalia. This gives the store a feel of a turn of the last century General store that used to dot the towns of rural Bergen County.
The Old Hook Farm grocery section of the General store
The greenhouse stocks all sorts of decorative plants, flowers and garden supplies and I am sure is better stocked in the summer months for lawn care and landscaping. During the holiday season, there were all sorts of wreaths, cemetery blankets and Christmas trees to choose from.
Like everyone else in the County, when I got there, there was only a few trees to choose from. They had sold out early in a year when everyone wanted a fresh tree. Still the atmosphere with the atmosphere of fresh pine and snow gave the farm that old fashioned ‘1970’s feel’ when I used to visit the farms in Bridgewater, NJ growing up. Things seemed a lot slower then and you could just relax and enjoy the sites and smells of a farm.
The Christmas trees were pretty much sold out when I visited
From a distance behind the greenhouse, you could see under the snow that had just fallen, the fields where the crops are grown in the warmer months. The old farmhouse on the property was decorated for Christmas as well and looked like a home out of a Currier & Ives print.
History of the Old Hook Farm:
The town of Emerson did not exist during the Native American origin. The name ‘Old Hook’ on the east side of the town came from the Dutch word ‘Hoek’ meaning ‘angle’ or ‘corner’. The angle of the land was created by the three connecting water ways, the Hackensack River, the Pascack Brook and the Musquapsink Brook. The first person to make their home here was William Rutan, who settled on a parcel of land just west of today’s ‘Old Hook Farm’ sometime around 1748 (Emerson Town History).
The current ‘Old Hook Farm’ was bought by current owner, Bruce Marek’s grandfather in 1925 as a weekend getaway. He rented the farm and the farm house to a local resident for 35 years and the family had a large garden on the property until about 1948. Then his father took over the land and cleared the fields and had Soil Conservation come in and do contours and started to grow in the greenhouse. When his father died in 1973, he took over the farm and within eight years, reopened the garden store and started to experiment and grow organic crops (Bruce Marek’s interview with ‘Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network’).
I next ventured to Hillsdale, NJ, two towns away to visit one of the most beloved farms in Bergen County, Demarest Farms at 244 Werimus Road, right off the Garden State Parkway. I have been visiting the farm since the early 1970’s when I used to visit my family who lived just two blocks away. Back then it was just a small farm stand just outside the family homestead. In 1991, they build the big store across the street.
The Demarest Farm Store at 244 Werimus Road
The farm stand building is always a buzz with people coming and going. People buying sandwiches, soups, hot entree items and baked goods for lunch and dinner. There is a large selection of in season produce (which is a little pricer than most supermarkets) as well as jams and jellies. Where the market really shines is their bakery filled with cookies, brownies, freshly baked pies and their well-known cider doughnuts. They also have great potato pancakes that taste good hot or cold (in the era of COVID the food has been toned back a little from the past).
Demarest Farm store carries an array of fruits and vegetables at all times of the year
The stand also has a nice garden section during the Spring and Summer seasons with everything you need for lawn care and for landscaping your home or decorating inside. During the Fall, there is all sorts of decorative items for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.
During every season, Demarest Farms is always full of activities. During the Summer months (Pre-COVID), there was the big barbecues that the farm sponsored that got so popular that they had to have the police direct traffic into the complex. These ‘All You Can Eat” affairs were so much fun. It was like a throw back to the 1970’s when families used to dine out together in the Summer months. You could listen to a local band play while chomping on endless hot dogs, barbecue chicken, fresh corn on the cob, baked beans, salad and watermelon for dessert. There were also be chests of ice full of Coke, Sprite and Bottled waters (see reviews on TripAdvisor).
During the Fall months, there would be Hayrides through the orchards, Pumpkin and Apple Picking that are so popular you need a reservation and Haunted Halloween events that have people driving from all over Northern New Jersey to attend.
This Christmas, in the era of COVID, the farm really outdid itself ringing in the holiday season. The farm stand sold an array of Christmas trees, wreaths and cemetery blankets, all sorts of holiday treats in the store including cookies, pies and jams and jellies. There was also a nice selection of holiday decorations. By the last week before Christmas, most everything was sold out.
What I thought was fun and it was the first time the farm had done this was the “Holiday Light Show” through the Demarest Farm orchard which is across the street from the farm stand. This show was sold out every night for almost three weeks ending on January 3rd.
Demarest Farm Store decorated for Christmas
The tour started at the farm stand where you could buy S’ mores to roast at the fire pit next to the nursery ($6.50). I thought it was a little expensive for two graham crackers, two marshmellows and a small bar of chocolate but people scooped them up and were roasting away. There were also cut outs from the holidays to take pictures and there was a small light show of singing reindeer performing all the classic Christmas songs.
Then it was time to take the drive through the orchard. We started the tour at farm stand and then drove across the street to the family homestead which was ablaze with colorful lights on the house and the surrounding trees. I took a slow drive through the orchard carefully following the cars in front of me to keep pace.
The apple and pear trees were decorated with multi color lights, Santa’s and Snowmen winked and greeted you at every turn. The barns were decorated with white lights and there was a tunnel of flashing lights to greet you and exit from. All along the way I listened to the Classical music channel to enhance the mood of the trip. It may have only been a half an hour but it was mesmerizing trip through a fantasy land of lights that put me back into the Christmas spirit. Demarest farms seems to have that effect at the holidays.
The History of Demarest Farms:
The Demarest family has been present in the New York area since David DeMarest arrived to New Amsterdam in 1663. The current farm has been in the Demarest family from Bergen County since 1886. In the 1970’s, Peter Demarest and his wife, Marsha introduced the pick your own apples and pumpkin business and eventually added peaches to the mix.
In 1991, the family opened the current farm store on what had once been corn fields. The store today has evolved into a selection of fresh produce, prepared foods, baked goods, apple cider, jams and jellies and homemade crafts (Demarest Farm website).
In 2014, Peter Demarest decided to retire and the sold the farm stand and farm to longtime employees Jason DeGise and Jim Spollen. The farmland had been preserved under the Farmland Preservation Fund and by the Open Space Trust Fund. The 27 acres are to be preserved as farmland and can only be used for agriculture (NJ.com).
Demarest Farms put out this wonderful promotional video on the event
Leaving Demarest Farms, I headed north taking the turns on Route 17 and Route 208 and headed up to Wyckoff. My first stop was the Goffle Road Poultry Farm at 549 Goffle Road. The farm which once must have taken up much more area has been reduced down to a few acres with chicken coops and hatcheries and the farm store.
The parking lot was a mob scene of people trying to get in and out of the driveway and being directed by one man in a mask. When I finally was able to get out of my car and park, I asked him if they were giving money away. He just laughed and said, “I wish”. He quickly said to me it was busier at Thanksgiving and they had lines going down Goffle Road.
Goffle Road Poultry Farm at 549 Goffle Road
I just walked in the store to look around passing all the people in line who were waiting to pick up their pre-orders. The store is stocked with all things poultry with fresh eggs. whole roasters and butchered chicken parts. In the freezer there were crab cakes, chicken nuggets and chicken and turkey pot pies, all of which they are known for and sought out.
Here there are no hayrides or special events although they told me Santa had already visited the farm. Just high quality food and excellent service done by a staff that looked very over-whelmed at the holidays.
History of Goffle Road Poultry Farm:
The Goffle Road Poultry Farm has been a family owned and operated business for four generations. Joseph and Rose Silvestri came over from Italy in 1920 and started Belmont Poultry in Paterson, NJ in the 1930’s. In 1948, Joseph and Rose’s son, Dominic, started Goffle Road Poultry Farm of Wyckoff, NJ. To this day, the Goffle Road Poultry Farm is operated as a family owned business by the current owner and grandson, Joseph Silvestri and great grandson, Brian Silvestri. The family has found it hard to keep up with demand on such a small plot and is now partnering with Amish farmers in Pennsylvania who share the same standards of raising animals (Goffle Road Poultry Farm website).
My last stop on this journey was the largest farm of them all, Abma’s Farm at 700 Lawlins Road in Wyckoff, NJ. Abma’s is an impressive working farm with many greenhouses, large fields, a gift shop, nursery, and a farm store. They also have a large petting zoo to amuse children and adults alike.
The Abma Farm at 700 Lawlins Road in Wyckoff
I have to admit that I have only visited the farm in the cooler months and with COVID going on, the petting zoo was closed the day I was there and it looked like you needed a reservation to get in. The price is $3.00 unless you join their Barnyard Loyalty Program by accumulating 30 points from their farm store and nursery.
The greenhouses were pretty empty the afternoon I visited. What was left of wreaths and Christmas trees dotted the the nursery area. I am sure it was totally stocked with all sorts of items to decorate the house. There was still a nice assortment of wreaths to choose from and garland to decorate the banisters and hallways with for Christmas. The Christmas tree selection was down to about ten trees and they were very sad looking. Being right before Christmas, the selection was limited.
In the Summer months, the greenhouses were full of flowers and decorative plants and the fields are ablaze with colors. It will be about four months before we see that again but Spring is not that far away.
The farm store was buzzing with people and it was hard to find a parking spot after the snow storm we had just had. Some of the drifts made parking tough but there was someone in the lot who made it easy to park.
The farm store at Abma Farm is full of fresh vegetables and fruits, a whole selection of bakery products including cookies, brownies, freshly baked pies and cider doughnuts. The prepared food section has all sorts of salads and sandwiches available and there is a selection of soups. There are also crafts available for sale.
The Abma Farm Store stocked with delicious foods
Though some of the special events on the farm have been cancelled because of COVID, they did have a socially distanced “Story with Santa” program and “You Pick” events for strawberries, potatoes, pumpkins and tomatoes during the different seasons. Events like pony rides and Easter themed events have been put on hold for the time.
What I really enjoy about visiting Abma Farm is just walking around the farm itself. I was able to walk through some of the greenhouses and see the trees and decorative items, look at the vast field and can’t wait to return in the Spring when we can see the fields of growing produce and greenhouses full of flowers and plants.
The History of Abma Farm:
First generation of the family, Barney Abma, was born on April 25th, 1901. He came to America for the first time in 1917 when he was 17 years old searching for a new beginning. After spending a few years out west, then a short stay in Pennsylvania, he went back to Holland to marry. Barney and his new wife, Anna, settled in Wyckoff at the present location of Abma’s Farm in the late 1920’s (Abma Farm History website).
The couple began working for the ‘Yeoman Farm’ and rented out part of the original farmhouse from owner, Daniel Yeoman. The farm was next passed on to Mr. and Mrs. George Fox (nee Yeoman). Barney Abma bought the farm from the couple in 1932 for $6,000. Part of the 50 acre farm was sold off and it is now the current 32 acre farm that it is today (Abma Farm History website).
The farm is now under the ownership of the forth and fifth generations of the Abma family under Barney and Anna’s son, James and his family.
I love this video on the family and about the farm.
There are also a few smaller farms in the County I was not able to visit before they closed for the season. Also most farm stands have closed for the Winter so there will be a lot to visit in the warmer months.
Still the holidays at the farms in Bergen County, NJ have a special place in our lives and have become part of the traditions of many families.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and look forward to updates in the Spring!
Farms to Visit:
Old Schraalenburgh Farm Stand and Abram Demaree Homestead
177 Schraalenburgh Road
Closter, NJ 07624
Open: Farm Stand Cafe: Wednesday-Friday 11:00am-5:00pm/Saturday and Sunday 11:00am-7:00pm
(This project is dedicated with much love to my father, Warren George Watrel, who still inspires me!)
Hello and Welcome to ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, an extensive project to walk the entire island of Manhattan. My name is Justin Watrel and I will be your guide in exploring the island of Manhattan, searching every nook and cranny of the island for the unusual, the usual and the in between.
‘Walking the Island of Manhattan’ may not be terribly original as there are about four other people doing the project at the same time, but this project is different in the way I see the island. Not rushing through to prove I have walked it but to see what these neighborhoods are all about and what is there to discover and enjoy.
For all you ‘Manhattanites’ who think you know your island, I will show you things that you have never seen and places you have never gone, restaurants you have never tried and historical sites and museums you never knew existed. Maybe just a few blocks from where you live. As the son of two “Brooklynites’, I have traveled around the city a lot since 1969, my first time in the City when my parents took me to Chinatown to Hunan Gardens, a Chinese restaurant on Mott Street. I ended up there for eight birthdays until it closed in the early 2000’s.
Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown
“My Walk in Manhattan” is a project to walk the entire island of Manhattan in New York City from top to bottom from the beginning of the Summer of 2015 until I finish the walk. Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide and covers a total area 23.7 square miles. Along the way of walking the streets of Manhattan, I will be walking into parks, museums, restaurants and looking at the architecture of the neighborhoods and the buildings in them.
My soon to be path around the Island of Manhattan
I have found that people miss a lot when they walk with their cellphones and only look down at it. When you look up, you see the true beauty of the City. You see the stone work of old brownstones, you see small boutiques off the beaten track and can indulge in those hole in the wall restaurants that are usually found by foreign tourists. Nothing is more interesting then seeing a stone face on a building staring back at you, a tiny pocket park that residents created out of a garbage dump and that small entrepreneur trying to create a vision.
The Cable Building at 631 Broadway
This project was inspired by many things. My major inspiration for this project follows the recent passing of my father, Warren George Watrel. My dad and I loved to walk around the city and spend the day at various museums, walking around Central Park and the Conservatory, taking the subway to try new restaurants in Chinatown or Little Italy or any new place I had read about in the Village Voice (my Bible when looking for things to do on weekends).
Columbus Circle on the West Side
My father was a ‘Brooklynite’ from Williamsburg (long before it was ‘Hipster Central’, he would have been amused) and loved the city, so this voyage is dedicated to him. Having watched the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, we look for inspiration in our travels and try to find the answers to why something happens the way it does. Walking to explore does that.
I was my father’s caregiver after his illness hit him and I continued my trips into Manhattan as my father got better. It was the inspiration to this site’s sister site, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’. After he passed in 2014, I wanted to spend Father’s Day doing something different yet do something that we would have done together. Thus started the first walk in Marble Hill.
My first Day in Marble Hill, Manhattan
Another inspiration was a recent article in New York Magazine entitled “Which New York is Yours? A Fierce Preservationist and a Pro-Development Blogger Debate” in which the author Justin Davidson asks about the disappearance of New York’s Character. “What does that character actually consist of? If we did make an all-out effort to preserve it, how would we know what to protect?” How much is the city changing? I have worked off and on in New York City since 1988 and the answer is in some parts of Manhattan it is night and day. Could you imagine walking in Bryant or Tompkins Square Parks in 1990?
I did and they were very different places back then. With the changing Zoning Laws and gentrification of many neighborhoods, its not the city of 1970’s movies. What I am looking for are those unique little pocket parks that we pass, those statues of people we have no clue who they are and those historic plaques of places gone by and people we don’t know.
Astor Row Houses in Harlem
Another are the books, ‘Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul’ by Jeremiah Moss and ‘The Death and Life of the Great American City’ by Jane Jacobs. How do cities keep progressing and changing? How does change effect a city and what direction are we going in? Does the Island of Manhattan have to be all luxury or can it be mixed to help keep the creativity alive and keep innovation going? Do we want the big bad 70’s again or the luxury brand of the 2010’s and 20’s? How is it impacting and changing the city? How much has Manhattan and the rest of the boroughs changed with the rezoning of the city under the Bloomberg Administration. This can also be looked at in the documentaries “Gut Renovation” and “My Brooklyn”.
The last inspiration was my doctor. He said I have to lose ten pounds. I am hardly over-weight but like many people he feels that I will be healthier if I lose the weight and keep it off. I want to see how a walk like this tones the body.
Bowling Green Park in Lower Manhattan
I know many people before have walked the entire length of Manhattan while others have or are attempting to walk the every block in the city, mine has a more personal reason. To really see the city I love from the ground up and explore parts of the island that I have never ventured to and see what I find there. Along the way, I want to see how the city changes while I am taking the walk. This is not the “Christopher Columbus” attitude most people are taking when exploring the neighborhoods but more honoring those residents who are trying to make the City better.
My project also includes stops at various points of interest and to get a better feel for all the neighborhoods, I am walking both sides of the street to get a better look at the buildings in each neighborhood and what defines the character of a neighborhood. I get the impression from some of the readers of Mr. Davidson’s article and from comments on the Internet that Manhattan is some “playground of the wealthy that is being gentrified to the hilt and soon no one will be able to afford any part of Manhattan”. Like in any place, there are people struggling everyday to survive in New York and like every city in the country, people are moving back in droves and want a quality of life for them and their families.
Delacorte Clock in Central Park
In the Age of COVID, it has been interesting starting the project again. I had been on hold from March 13th, 2020 through June 10th, 2020 when the City was closed for anyone other than First Responder and people who had to work there. I was so happy when I could return and continue walking Manhattan. My walk down Broadway for the forth time was a surprise with all the businesses closed on the Upper West Side and I met the challenge of “The Great Saunter Walk” , the 32 mile walk around the perimeter of the island in 14 hours. There is now more to see and explore and write.
The COVID world though has me facing closed businesses that I have covered over the years. Restaurants and stores that I have mentioned in this blog since 2015 have since closed permanently or closed for the time being, I am not too sure. We also have a walking world of masks that keep us safe. The times in Manhattan are changing from the way we eat in restaurants to the way we shop and visit museums.
SoHo boarded up after the June Riots 2020
Fifth Avenue boarded up after the June Riots 2020
Things are constantly changing in Manhattan since the riots in June and COVID keeps raging in the City with people not wanting to wear masks. I hope that things will get back to normal soon. I still see people out and about doing their thing and enjoying the warm weather so I am optimistic about life. Still though, Manhattan keeps changing with the Theater District boarded up and Chinatown looking like a ghost town. We will see how New York City recovers from COVID like the rest of the country.
I have now expanded this site to three other blogs, ‘VisitingaMuseum’ (VisitingaMuseum.com), which features all the historical sites, community gardens and small museums and galleries I find in not just Manhattan but throughout the rest of the NYC and beyond in the suburbs.
‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ (DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com), where I feature wonderful little restaurants, bodegas and bakeries that I find along the way. The one requirement is that the meal is around $10.00 and under (for us budget minded people).
“LittleShoponMainStreet” (LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com) where I find unique and creative stores in Manhattan and locally whose merchandising, displays, merchandise and service stand out in an age of Amazon. This harks back to a time when shopping was enjoyable and not a chore.
I have also added two new sections to the blog, “My life as a Fireman”, which I have moved from an old site that I had created for my old engine company to describe my experiences on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department over the last 16 years. Also, this is what takes up my time when I am not exploring New York City.
Justin Watrel, Fireman
Another is “A Local Journey” are tours of downtown’s and communities outside the New York City area to travel to when you need to escape the City’s clutches. I have specific guidelines in finding stores, restaurants and museums/cultural sites in the area. This has lead me to really explore my own town of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and exploring out of town destinations like Red Hook, NY and Beach Haven/Long Beach Island, NJ. You would be amazed on what these small towns offer.
Downtown Red Hook, NY in the Summer months
So to readers who will be following me on the journey walking through Manhattan and beyond, I hope you enjoy trip walking by my side!
Me in Red Hook, Brooklyn discovering my new love in “Street Art”
This project is dedicated to my father, Warren George Watrel, with lots of love and many wonderful adventures and memories to keep me company as I take “My Walk in Manhattan”.
My dad, Warren and I at a Grandparent’s Day Brunch in 2013