NJ’s culinary stars unite to benefit autistic adults

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 7/7/17

It’s no secret that New Jersey’s farms are some of the best — as every resident (and foodie) knows, we can get some truly mouthwatering produce, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, bread and more right here in the Garden State from farmers we know by first name.

Oasis Farms, operated by Oasis Therapeutic Life Centers, a public charity founded in 2007, is one of those such farms — with locations in Middletown, the properties are full of goats grazing, fields flush with vegetables and fruits, hens roaming, a wood-burning oven where pizzas and breads are baked and artwork and fine crafts on display.

The one difference between Oasis Farms and other Garden State farms is that throughout the spaces, visitors will notice students everywhere, tending to farm chores and practicing the life arts, since Oasis Farms houses 22 autistic adults who live and work on the 21 acres, as well as on an additional leased 20 acres, to help them excel at meaningful work and community interaction.

Oasis Farms is a working farm for autistic adults to live and work at. (Photo courtesy of Oasis Farms)

When the Garden State Culinary Arts Foundation, an organization founded by award-winning New Jersey culinary journalist Andy Clurfeld, held its first awards program and ceremony in May, they needed farm-fresh items for the ceremony dinner. However, they couldn’t utilize any of the top restaurants nominated in the awards, which is where Oasis Farms came in.

“At Oasis Farms, one of the things we teach our students is food service preparation, where students cook, host and sell their products,” said Oasis founder Mai Cleary. “So, someone suggested that we provide items for the Garden State Culinary Arts Awards, and when it was served, everyone said, ‘Wow, where did this come from?’”

This led Clurfeld to head to the farm to check it out for herself. She attended an Oasis Summer Breakfast Cafe, a program in which students make breakfast for Oasis Farms guests.

Oasis Farms is a working farm for autistic adults to live and work at. (Photo courtesy of Oasis Farms)

“I was enjoying this amazing breakfast and then I take a bite of a scone with butter and I think, hmm, this tastes a little strange,” said Clurfeld. “So I asked Mai if they make the butter on-site and she said no, we can’t because we don’t have the right kind of cows — Jersey cows are too large and intimidating and wouldn’t be right for our students, but there’s a more fitting kind of cow we would like to purchase — a miniature Jersey cow that’s unfortunately less common and more expensive.”

With this, the wheels in Clurfeld’s mind started turning. From the beginning, she wanted to use her new foundation to benefit worthy endeavors, and this was the perfect fit. Local food professionals, including restaurant owners, chefs, food artisans, winemakers, brewers, distillers and more were immediately on board to host a benefit for Oasis Farms.

“I have found that the hospitality community is the most generous group of people on the planet,” said Clurfeld. “Everyone is pitching in and 100 percent of the proceeds are going to Oasis Farms to help them purchase miniature Jersey cows for the students to milk and make butter, cheese and more.”

Oasis Farms is a working farm for autistic adults to live and work at. (Photo courtesy of Oasis Farms)

Got Cow? was then born. It’s a fundraiser consisting of two parts happening on Saturday, Sept. 16, starting with an afternoon open house from 1 to 3:30 p.m. for the whole family at 89 Sleepy Hollow Road in Middletown in which visitors can enjoy pizza made to order from chef and pizzaiola Dan Richer of Razza, snacks from Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse and Oasis Farms, farm tours and demonstrations and arts and crafts on display for $25 per adult, $12.50 for those age 12 to 18 and free for those under 12.

An evening gala will follow the afternoon open house down the street at 911 Navesink River Road in Middletown (the new Oasis Farms location), starting with a wine seminar and tasting from 6 to 7 p.m. with Nick Pizzonia of Court (Liquors) Wine Club and Clurfeld, followed by a cocktail hour and performance from 7 to 8 p.m. Finally, a multi-course farm-to-table dinner will be served from 8 to 10 p.m., prepared by by chef Bruce Lefebvre, owner of The Frog and the Peach, with wine pairings by Pizzonia and Clurfeld.

Tickets for the evening gala are $200 for one person and $350 for two people, which includes the wine seminar, cocktail hour and farm dinner. To purchase tickets, email Laurie at lauriemoasis@gmail.com or call 908-601-6363. Reservations for the evening gala must be made by Monday, Sept. 11.

Oasis Farms is a working farm for autistic adults to live and work at. (Photo courtesy of Oasis Farms)

With about 100 tickets for the evening gala for sale and about 300 for the afternoon open house, Clurfeld said she hopes to raise at least $15,000 so Oasis Farms can purchase multiple miniature Jersey cows, which range from about $3,500 to $4,500.

If you have any other ideas for fundraisers that the Garden State Culinary Arts Foundation can take part in, email your ideas to Clurfeld at aclurfeld@njmonthly.com. Also, those that are interested in starting an Oasis Farms location in their community should come to the open house and speak with Cleary about how they can take part.

The Garden State Culinary Arts Awards was founded when Clurfeld decided it was time for New Jersey to be recognized for its outstanding culinary professionals, making it the only statewide independent and juried culinary awards program.

Oasis Farms is a working farm for autistic adults to live and work at. (Photo courtesy of Oasis Farms)

More than 150 judges from every county in New Jersey are led by a seven-member panel largely composed of veteran food journalists to name awards in 13 categories that honor chefs and restaurants, farmers and food artisans, professionals in the beverage industries and more.

“New Jersey has for far too long stood in the shadow of nearby big cities,” Clurfeld said. “However, we are not going to get acknowledgment from the national media or our neighbors and we need to take charge of this ourselves by collaborating. Our culinary professionals are uniting to join with good causes.”

Oasis Farms is a working farm for autistic adults to live and work at. (Photo courtesy of Oasis Farms)

Got Cow?

What: A benefit hosted by the Garden State Culinary Arts Foundation to benefit Oasis Farms, which are two farms where autistic adults live and work. All proceeds will go to help the farms purchase miniature Jersey cows. 

When: Saturday, Sept. 16, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. 

Afternoon open house: 89 Sleepy Hollow Road, Middletown, 1 to 3:30 p.m., $25 per adult, $12.50 for age 12 to 18 and free for those under 12.

Evening gala: 911 Navesink River Road, Middletown, includes a wine seminar and tasting, performance, cocktail hour and farm dinner from 6 to 10 p.m.,r $200 for one person and $350 for two. 

Contact: Laurie at lauriemoasis@gmail.com or 908-601-6363.

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