Duke Farms

Local hidden gems: 5 interesting items from your farmers’ market

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/17/17

Everyone loves their local farmers’ market — from fresh produce, to locally grown meat to quality dairy products, the grub you can find at a farmers’ market simply cannot compare to what’s on the shelves at the grocery store.

However, another upside to shopping at a local farmers’ market is that besides the typical goodies you would find like fruits and vegetables, you can also to shop for interesting, artisan items such as pickles, hot sauce, jams, specialty breads and more. Read on to find out what quirky items you can find at your farmers’ market this spring.

Boston Cream Pie doughnuts from Curiosity Doughnuts. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Curiosity Doughnuts)

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Tourism goes green in NJ

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/17/16

Would you feel comfortable biking, rather than renting a car, on your vacation?

How would you like it if your hotel asked you if it could change your personal bed sheets only once per week on your extended stay?

Would you be able to solely utilize reusable bottles rather than plastic water bottles on a trip?

In an age in which we are working harder to protect our planet — including those in the tourism industry — this is becoming more of the norm.

“I think that people are planning their trips a lot better and they are thinking about the impact they are having when they’re traveling,” said Nora Wagner, director of strategic planning and programs at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. “In the tourism industry, people are becoming more environmentally conscious.”

Element Ewing Princeton is the only LEED-certified NJ hotel. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Element Ewing Princeton)

Element Ewing Princeton is the only LEED-certified NJ hotel.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Element Ewing Princeton)

Part of that is because lodgings and points of interest have become more sustainable, setting an example for visitors.

“We do attract a certain amount of people who are environmentally conscious and also those who just want a nice day out but while they are here, there are subtle messages about stewardship, like our carry-in-carry-out trash policy,” Wagner said.

Staff members at Duke Farms considers themselves a model of environmental stewardship, taking advantage of any opportunity — whether it be from land management to building — to be as sustainable as possible. Just a few examples of their environmental efforts include infrastructure that maximizes energy efficiency, community gardens, permeable pathways and more.

At Element Ewing Princeton, the only LEED-certified hotel in New Jersey, meaning it is 100 percent sustainable from floor to ceiling, the staff also works to provide a green environment for its guests, fostering habits that they can hopefully bring home with them.

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The hotel utilizes water-efficient faucets and fixtures, free bike rentals, Energy Star-rated appliances, green cleaning products, the option for once-a-week personal bed linen changing for extended stays, no plastic products and more.

“Our guests definitely appreciate the hotel sustainability aspect,” said Alexis Davison, director of sales of Element Ewing Princeton. “They want to reuse their towels, charge their Apple products off fitness-machine power in our gym and utilize the natural light in our lobby.”

Unfortunately, not all lodgings are so educated in how they can be environmentally conscious. But hopefully, that won’t be the case much longer, thanks to a state program.

Green Travel New Jersey is a voluntary pilot program being developed with the state and operators of hospitality facilities that allows lodgings to earn a New Jersey Green Lodging certification, which ensures that a lodging meets environmentally friendly standards for water conservation, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, minimal waste and more.

The community garden at Duke Farms. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

The community garden at Duke Farms. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

To ensure that facilities maintain certification standards, the New Jersey State Green Certification Lodging Program conducts random audits of a selected facility on a regular basis and monitors guest feedback. If deficiencies are noted, the New Jersey Green Lodging Program offers assistance to correct them, and consistent failure to correct deficiencies will result in removal from the program.

Being green isn’t just good for the program, the environment and guests — it’s valuable for a hotel’s wallet, too.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has determined that a 10 percent reduction in energy costs in the hospitality industry results in $2 more in revenue per room for full-service hotels. Across the lodging industry, this would save $745 million per year.

“People are saying to themselves, ‘OK, I need to make sure I have trash bags with me in my backpack,’ when they go out to a park for a day,” said Wagner. “They are learning to be less impactful with their carbon footprint.”

In order to be a more environmentally friendly traveler, Davison suggests that tourists utilize rideshare programs, bicycling and minimize waste by taking only what they are going to consume in food items.

Duke Farms is a model of environmental stewardship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

Duke Farms is a model of environmental stewardship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

5 local parks to explore this spring

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

After a long New Jersey winter, spring is finally here — and, as long as you remembered to take your allergy medication this morning, you may be gearing up for a season spent hiking, biking and exploring Central Jersey’s scenic parks.

The Garden State may get a bad rap for a few crowded highways and smelly cities, but in general, New Jersey’s nickname doesn’t lie — our state is packed with places to enjoy the outdoors, many of them nestled in Central Jersey.

If you’re wondering where to head with the dog this weekend, then read on below to discover popular parks where you can enjoy the spring season and get to know Mother Nature.

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve was formerly a quarry for large boulders. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sourland Mountain Preserve)

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve was formerly a quarry for large boulders. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sourland Mountain Preserve)

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve was formerly a quarry for large boulders that were crushed to obtain railroad ballast, concrete aggregate and surfacing for roadbeds. Today, it’s a 375-acre park covered by second-growth oak forest.

With four trails, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing and dog walking is permitted, as well as superstition — some say compasses do not work in the hills and others say that the mountains are haunted.

To see it for yourself, head to the Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve by driving to 233 Rileyville Road, Ringoes. For further information, visit http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/depts/parks/ParkAreas/Sourlands/info.htm.

Round Valley Recreation Area is home to the deepest body of water in New Jersey at 180 feet. (Photo: Karen Mancinelli/Staff Photo)

Round Valley Recreation Area is home to the deepest body of water in New Jersey at 180 feet. (Photo: Karen Mancinelli/Staff Photo)

Round Valley Recreation Area is home to the deepest body of water in New Jersey at 180 feet, surrounded by 12 miles of three trails on 1,288 acres that are host to hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.

Created in the 1960s, it also has picnic areas and wilderness campsites for those willing to extend their outdoor experience. It’s one of the only New Jersey parks that offers campsites. Visit Round Valley Recreation Area by heading to 1220 Lebanon-Stanton Road, Lebanon, for $2 to $20, with prices ranging depending on type of vehicle, state of residence and time of year.

Park hours also currently range — from now until Memorial Day Weekend, it will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, go to http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/round.html.

Duke Farms, which was once the home of the Doris Duke Estate, was transformed into a landscape open to the public as of 2012. (Photo: ~File photo)

Duke Farms, which was once the home of the Doris Duke Estate, was transformed into a landscape open to the public as of 2012. (Photo: ~File photo)

Duke Farms, which was once the home of the Doris Duke Estate, was transformed into a landscape open to the public as of 2012 and has remained a fixture for the outdoorsy ever since.

With 2,740 total acres and 18 miles of trails, the area is known as one of the largest privately owned public spaces in the United States.

At the property, visit can find a farm-to-table market, an orchid range, an outdoor sculpture gallery, a former 22,000-square-foot former horse and dairy barn, bicycle rentals, a trolley and more.

Head to Duke Farms by visiting 1112 Duke Parkway West, Hillsborough, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. Admission is free. For further information, visit dukefarms.org.

Cheesequake State Park is stuffed full of 1569 acres and 9.5 miles of four trails. (Photo: Tom Spader/Staff Photo)

Cheesequake State Park is stuffed full of 1569 acres and 9.5 miles of four trails. (Photo: Tom Spader/Staff Photo)

Cheesequake State Park is stuffed full of 1,569 acres and 9.5 miles of four trails that allow for hiking, biking, dog walking and cross-country skiing.

Packed between two ecosystems — Pine Barrens and mixed oak forest — visitors can see plant species characteristic of the northern and southern parts of the state. Located near the trailhead parking area is Cheesequake’s nature center, which is host to changing exhibits, an auditorium and a covered front deck for birdwatching.

Visit the park by heading to 300 Gordon Road in Matawan from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for $5 to $20 per vehicle, prices ranging depending on state of residence and time of year. For more information, visithttp://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/cheesequake.html.

Lake Surprise in Union County's Watchung Reservation is a prime destination for hikers, kayakers and fishermen all year long. (Photo: ~File photo)

Lake Surprise in Union County’s Watchung Reservation is a prime destination for hikers, kayakers and fishermen all year long. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Watchung Reservation may border Route 78, but it retains a natural, wild state, free from noise thanks to sound barriers. Animal and plant life are also protected inside its 2,000-acre wooded tract.

On 1,995 acres of land are 13 miles of trail, winding through Surprise Lake, the deserted village of Feltvile/Glenside Park, the Trailside Nature and Science Center, Seeley’s Pond and the Watchung Stables.

Check out Union County’s largest park by going to 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, which can be visited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. For more information, visit http://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/paths-trails-greenways/watchung-reservation/.