There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.
And it looks like it’s goin’ clear up to the sky.
- lyrics of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” in the musical “Oklahoma”
I would like to salute our farmers with an optimistic spirited song. Thank you to Rodgers and Hammerstein and “Oklahoma.”
Farmers. They are admired by many. Theirs is an occupation that is crucial to all our lives - we need the food they produce.
They are hard workers, laboring long days in the field and barn.
Even with the most important value to us, the citizens of Sussex County, farmers are not immune to the highest of risks. Their property is broad and susceptible to flood, drought, wind, and untimely freezes or baking heat. Their cattle and stock may succumb to disease, and the price of milk or other commodities may change to their detriment. Our farmers are hardy souls indeed.
Sussex County was founded three centuries or so ago, in large part, as a frontier with promise, a place where families could make a fresh start. We have had several farming communities that have helped to make centers in Sussex County; towns such as Branchville and the important milk center of Sussex Borough.
The times of the local farmer seem to be slipping from us. Driven by an aloofness for the hard work, high risk and low return by the younger members of families, many farms have gone out of business.
The opportunity to sell the land to home developers has made farmers rich - quite a difficult choice in some cases - with the energy required for the hugely laborious job of being a farmer.
The history of our county has been painted in many ways with the longstanding farms that have been here. There are open fields where we see stout corn grow or pastures where milk cows graze that have looked exactly the same for 100 or more years. This rural and lasting picture of the county has been embraced by its citizens; a comfort of our place on the map.
I’d like to ask Sussex County farmers who have been here for more 100 years to write to me at email@example.com with their story of where the family came from, why they came here, and how the farm has handled the turbulent and placid times of the century or so that they have been looking out to their fields and barns.
It would be wonderful to capture the passing history of the county before this important part is lost.
Here’s a short bio for an old farmstead near me. Per Snell’s reference, Israel Munson was born in Morris County in 1771 and moved to Hardyston, in Sussex County, as a young man to be a farmer. He died in 1838.
His son Amos Munson was born in 1801. There were many Munson family members in the county: Asa in Hardyston, James in Sparta and John in Wantage.
Asa also went to Deckertown (Sussex) and continued as a farmer while being a “father” to the town and advocate of the Midland Railroad - there’s a fountain and street with his name. He continued as a farmer for the rest of his life.
Samuel Munson was involved in business and politics in a next generation.
So, let me know about your family’s heritage in the most important vocation of farming through the years in our Sussex County.
Bill Truran is the Sussex County historian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org