About ten minutes into my tour of Iceberg Farms in Howell I had the feeling that something was missing. All the components of a small farm were in place—the beehives, wandering chickens, plastic sheathed greenhouse with produce plants ready for transplanting, even the rambling nineteenth-century farmhouse. But I was bothered. Finally, as we walked through the farm's raspberry patch, I realized what the problem was; all of New Jersey had somehow vanished.
Most of the New Jersey farms you'll visit will have at least something of the Garden State in them. It could be high-priced market garden crops, farmers who behave like Wall Street bond traders, or just the sight of suburbia beyond the edge of a pasture. None of that would dare encroach on this place. The sign out front refers to "Iceberg Farms, Howell New Jersey," but the vibe is rural Wyoming homestead.
Here Bill Lackey keeps three hundred chickens, fifty quail, more than a half-dozen apiaries, a greenhouse filled with produce for local restaurants, patches of raspberries and grapes, and even a lone pig named "Roast" that's destined for at least a few family dinners.
I visited Iceberg Farms in my quest for good eggs and began by asking about those chickens. Bill told me, "We're not certified organic, but absolutely nothing gets sprayed with anything." Spoken like a true frugal farmer. His chickens are free-range in the best sense. You see them everywhere, scraping, and scratching, and digging. Those quails are caged, but how long would they last otherwise? The eggs are washed only in water, and while the sign outside says they're brown, the ones I bought ranged from brown to white to blue. A chicken work of art.
Visitors to Iceberg Farms can buy those eggs, Bill's own maple syrup (from real New Jersey maples), honey from the bees, and whatever produce he has available. It's pretty much first come, first served, although he might hold a few things back for the regulars. Of course, when he told me that his eggs are $2.50 a dozen, my first thought was, "I never find them that cheap back in New Jersey!" And then I fell silent as I realized that this was New Jersey, that our state was big enough to hold much more than we give it credit for.
And the eggs were delicious—first in Spaghetti alla Carbonara, then just hard cooked, an intense egg flavor for the price of "cage free" at the supermarket.