Memories of a Long Valley Farmer
Harvey Ort Sr. recalls a time when Long Valley had almost 150 dairy farms and summer meant a feast of huckleberries and blueberries on top of the mountain.
He sits at the long table in the kitchen of the farm house where he was born 83 years ago, and while he vividly recalls several economic slumps and has clear memories of the Great Depression, Harvey Ort Sr. considers himself quite fortunate to have lived his life here–cradled in the lush farmland of Long Valley.
"I was thinking about it just the other day. I was thinking about how lucky I am to live here in this house with two churches in view on both sides of me and my son's home right down the road," said Ort.
His eyes filled with tears as he spoke of his recently departed wife, Edith who passed away earlier this year at the age of 80. The two were married in 1946. She was 16 years old and was raised in Chester. He was 19 years old, and was raised on one of the oldest dairy farms in the valley.
"We were just a couple of kids back then," said Ort Sr. They married in the Zion Lutheran Church in the middle of town and began their 64 year journey together. They had 10 children.
Harvey Ort's ancestors traveled from Germany in 1775 and he said, as far as he knows, while they were headed for New York City, they sailed into Philadelphia.
Some of the German families on the ship settled in New Germantown or what is now known as the town of Oldwick, New Jersey. His family settled here in what was called German Valley at the time.
Many of the people who visit Ort Farm today which is located in the center of this great bowl of a valley on Bartley Road, are either locals stopping by for flowers and potting soil in the spring, or fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer. And later in the year, they go hunting for pumpkins and buckets of apples or holiday greens in the winter.
In fact, the sign in front of the farm store says it all: Ort Farm, A Place for All Seasons.
With a thriving business year round, Ort Farm is probably most popular in the autumn when thousands of visitors, especially from less rural areas of the state, swarm to the Long Valley's farms for a taste of the season in the country.
Some of the delights that kids of all ages especially love are the corn mazes and riding in carriages pulled by Clydesdale Horses.
But for Ort Sr., country life in all of its seasons is all he's ever known. For him, it doesn't seem that long ago when the valley was filled with cows.
"We had at one time almost 150 dairy farms in the valley," said Ort. He also recalls vividly spending time with his grandfather whom he adored. His grandfather, Harry S. Ort, lived on Spring Lane on top of Schooley's Mountain.
"I picked huckleberries and blueberries up there and my grandfather took me hunting," said Ort. "We were very close. He taught me how to do everything. He taught me how to work."
Ort recalled that he would wait for his grandfather to ride down in his horse and carriage from on top of the mountain and several times he was disappointed only to see what he thought was his grandfather's carriage whisk by their house.
Among his friends were Donny Burd, Jack Joseph, and his very good friend Skip McKenna who was his best man, but was killed in an explosion 25 years ago.
While the farm is run primarily by his son, Harvey Ort Jr., Ort Sr. looks forward to the family gatherings that draw as many as 115 at summer picnics and the house full of children and grandchildren during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Despite the loss of his good friends and his wife, Harvey Ort Sr. takes each day in stride. He has his list of things to do, like "paying the rent"–a phrase he uses to refer to property taxes.
While the sound of cows lowing in the morning is comforting and beautiful to some, for Ort, the sound reminds him of the wakeup call he heard during much of his young life at 4:30 in the morning–when it was time to milk the cows and begin the day on the farm.
For some, country and farm life is a fleeting experience, tasted once or twice a year to celebrate special seasons like spring and fall.
For others like Harvey Ort Sr., farm life has not been an easy one. It has meant a lifetime of hard work.
But despite the setbacks and seemingly endless chores that a working farm demands, it is clear that for Ort, his life has also been a daily celebration. It is a life he breathes in fully and has worn like a comfortable plaid flannel shirt. Wrapped in his memories and the landscape he loves, it is clear that he knows how lucky he is.