Don and Lisa Straga own Masters Organic Farms in Galloway Township, N.J. They farm the old-fashioned way, totally by hand and without the use of chemicals. Recently, I had the opportunity to tour Masters Organic Farms and to speak to Don, Lisa and their children about this new/old way of farming.
Masters Organic Farms is certified organic and totally GMO-free, not an easy feat in this day of what many call progress. They don’t even use chemical pesticides. When natural remedies fail, they kill bugs by hand.
Masters Organic Farms is truly a family affair. Don, Lisa, their son Derek and daughter Amy all work every aspect of this operation. How do they do it? Lisa says you do it by “putting footprints in your garden every day.”
Though Don and Lisa both come from farming families in the South Jersey area, farming wasn’t always first and foremost on their minds. Don has owned the Tang Soo Karate Studio in Pleasantville since 1977. All family members are proficient in martial arts.
The opportunity to purchase the farm came about four years ago. There was never any question about going organic. They worked hard, obtained their certification and now strive to go above and beyond the rules and regulations. The discipline learned in their study of martial arts gives this family what Don calls the “warrior mentality” that makes Masters Organic Farms the success that it is.
Caesars Entertainment takes advantage of this totally natural and marvelous produce for its four casinos in Atlantic City. Whenever you eat at Caesars, Bally’s, Showboat or Harrah’s Resort, you are most likely consuming produce from Masters Organic Farms. The Stragas give the word fresh a whole new meaning. Produce is picked and delivered to the casinos in about two hours. The chefs told us that it is sometimes still warm from the sun when they receive it.
And to show us how some of this produce goes together in the hands of a skilled chef, we were accompanied to the farm by some of the best chefs of Caesars Entertainment: Keith Mitchell, Rob Schoell, John Mejlak and George Galliti. When these four put their heads together, wonderful food results! We were treated to a refreshing agua fresca drink made with tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon. We nibbled salads made from fresh peaches and other garden-fresh produce, among other true earthly delights.
The chefs told us that they are constantly amazed by the quality of the produce from Masters Organic Farms. The Stragas, in turn, told us they are likewise amazed at what the chefs concoct with their crops, like ice cream and margaritas made from beets.
The produce is so clean, you can pick it right off the vines and pop it into your mouth. Their Sun Gold cherry tomatoes were a real treat, sweet as candy and very delicious.
Masters Organic Farms has two acres planted in vegetables with an additional 40 acres of cover crops like hay, buckwheat, clover and rye. These crops provide a pollinator habitat and provide benefits to the soil when they are tilled in after the season. The farm also grows fresh herbs like basil, cilantro and parsley.
I asked the family about what their favorite and least favorite aspects of natural farming were. The answers varied but, basically, the most non-favorite chores were bug killing and weeding. The best answer of what is the favorite thing about Masters Organic Farms came from Don. “I love spending time with my family while working the farm.”
Spending time at Masters Organic Farms with the Stragas really brought home the fact that, sometimes, the old ways just are better. The Stragas are on a mission in South Jersey to prove that cleaner and healthier eating doesn’t have to carry the risk of chemical exposure. And if you don’t believe me and need more proof, order a vegetable dish at Bally’s, Caesars, Showboat or Harrah’s Resort. Your taste buds won’t lie.
Lisa and Don Straga with Chef Keith
Masters Organic Farms is a certified organic and GMO-free farm in Galloway Township, N.J. Standing in front of their sign are owners Lisa Straga (L) and Don Straga (R), along with Executive Chef Keith Mitchell (C) of Caesars Entertainment.
Sun Gold cherry tomatoes
The produce at Masters Organic Farms is so clean, you can pick it and pop it in your mouth as you walk the rows of produce at the farm. The Sun Gold cherry tomatoes pictured here are sweeter than most candy and so delicious!
Don Straga talks to the press
Don Straga, owner of Masters Organic Farms, explains some of his farming methods to the press at a recent gathering. Everything at this farm is done naturally. Only Heirloom seeds are used to keep the quality high. Bugs are killed by hand when natural solutions fail.
Exec. Chef Keith Mitchell
Caesars Entertainment Executive Chef Keith Mitchell inspects the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes at Masters Organic Farms. Chef Keith gave a few examples of the creative ways that the farm’s produce has been used in the past; for example, ice cream made from beets..
Masters Organic Farms also grows herbs in addition to their spectacular produce. Pictured here is a row of fresh basil. The smell is intoxicating as you walk down the rows! They also grow cilantro and parsley.
The Straga Family
Masters Organic Farms is truly a family affair. Everyone works the farm. Pictured here, from left to right, are owners Don and Lisa Straga, 12-year-old daughter Amy and 19-year-old son Derek.
Fresh Produce from Masters Organic Farms
This is just a small sampling of the fresh produce we were about to enjoy before the chefs got to it and turned it into delicious and very fresh creations. I loved it all, but my favorite was the agua fresca made with watermelon, cucumbers and tomatoes. It was a hot day and this drink really hit the spot!
Fresh Peach Salad
Fresh peach salad with a slab of cheese on top, drizzled in a balsamic-honey glaze. I know Chef George told me the name of the cheese, but it escapes me. It was kind of like fresh mozzarella in consistency. This little salad packed a huge taste wallop!
Caesars Entertainment Chefs at Masters Organic Farms
The day we visited Masters Organic Farms, we brought along some of the best chefs of Caesars Entertainment. Pictured left to right are Chef John Mejlak, Chef Rob Schoell, Chef Keith Mitchell, Owners Don Straga and Lisa Straga, and Chef George Galliti.