March 13, 2023
“I love food and I love feeding people,” says Cookie Till, who co-founded the nonprofit Reed’s Organic Farm, along with Beth Senay and Leonard Varvaro, in 2019. The 80-acre plot rests just outside of Atlantic City, in New Jersey’s Egg Harbor Township. By the time Till, Senay, and Varvaro took over the land, the farm had been around for 85 years and Till had already cultivated an illustrious, food-focused career.
“I’ve had a restaurant for 25 years and my husband and I used to come and buy produce at this farmstand,” Till says. “And I just loved it. I’ve always thought it was just a beautiful piece of property.” After working in the restaurant industry in the Atlantic City area, Till became aware of the issues surrounding food in the vicinity. She felt uncomfortable with the fact that many people in the area couldn’t afford to eat at her restaurant and she wanted to change the general lack of access—and education around—healthy food.
“I just always saw the farm as being such a hub,” says Till. “Where we could really start to dig in and make some progress to get food to people.” Today, Reed’s Farm is exactly that: a hub and community center dedicated to growing fresh food and utilizing regenerative and organic practices. They also offer a plethora of community outreach programs.
“The market and kitchen is the heart of the farm,” says Till of Micky’s Market, which is housed inside of a converted pole barn. The kitchen offers healthy, grab-and-go options like sandwiches, soups, and baked goods, as well as a coffee bar. “But if we hadn’t been able to farm and learn how to regenerate the soil to be able to get things to grow, the market and kitchen couldn’t be realized.” Reed’s composting program also proved integral, regenerating the soil so it could be used as a fertile base.
Also on the grounds is an animal sanctuary that is home to two mini horses, two large horses, a mini donkey, two pot-bellied pigs, two alpaca, a bunch of chickens, ducks, and cats, and two dogs.
Since 2019, Reed’s Farm has opened and restored 10 acres of land for vegetable and flower production, successfully regenerated land that had been damaged by conventional farming practices, planted over 80 trees, built four greenhouses, and much more. “My passion,” says Till, “and what I see as a need in the community, is to get people to understand how important growing food is, how important good food is for your health and your wellbeing.”
The farm’s educational and vocational programs are specifically geared towards inner city kids, as well as children and young adults with special needs. So far, their programs have helped over 21 vocational students with cognitive and behavioral issues learn the nuances of plant science and environmental sustainability.
Despite the farm’s inarguable success so far, Till and the team are continuing to think about how they can keep growing, educating, and reaching more people. “I would love to have a food forest in Atlantic City,” says Till. “That would be the ultimate.” In her vision, the plot has fruit trees, parks, greenhouses, and kitchens. It would be a place “where food’s accessible to all. I think it should be a race to create that.”