Mohawk Farms, 1922-2019: A Retrospective

The farm has sold.

I’ve been staring at the screen, trying to come up with some flowery, grandiose introduction, some better way of saying it, but there it is.

The farm has sold.

After 97 years in the family, and five generations of Berenato men and women working there, the farm has sold.

We knew this day was coming — the farm had been for sale for five years — but I never actually thought it would come. I grew up there, spent my adult life there. So did my father. So did his father. My sisters worked there. My mom. My step-mom and her children. My wife. My son. My stepson.

Mohawk Farms has been a defining part of my identity for the entirety of my life. Tomorrow, in fact, would have been 13 years to the day that I went to work there full-time.

And now someone else has the keys.

In what I am sure is going to be a vain attempt to avoid becoming maudlin, I would like to take just a few moments of your time and present a brief history of the farm.

My great-grandfather, Antonio “Tony Mohawk” Berenato, bought the first ten acres in 1922. That parcel became the center of our operations for the next 97 years.

His son, Joseph “Joe Mohawk” Berenato — my grandfather — spent virtually all of his life — except for two years or so in the Army and five years as a welder — working the fields.

When he was a boy, about ten years old, he planted a mulberry tree in the middle of the yard. It still stands, and has become something of a mascot for the farm.

My father, Anthony “Bird” Berenato, showed an interest in farming at a very early age.

He became next in line, working side-by-side with his father until we — his kids — came along.

I, too, showed an interest in farming at an early age.

Summers were spent at the farm. My mom and grandmother packed blackberries and blueberries, and my sister and I played (I was 3) — or assembled cardboard crates for them to use. As time went by and we got older, we started working. At 5, I was stapling sweet potato boxes. At 8 I was helping to pack zucchini. At ten, I packed okra and weighed blueberries in bulk. By 12, I made all of the blueberry crates and ran the floor, and I did that until I graduated college. Our friends worked with us each blueberry season — hell, it sometimes seems like half of Hammonton worked there — which made the days pass by quickly.

Eventually, after a five-year hiatus (how like my grandfather, no?), I went to work with my dad and my grandfather (who was retired at this point but still went to work every day anyway), and farming was no longer just a part of my life; it was my life.

When he came of age, my eldest son Justin started working there, and did so for a few summers.

Farming wasn’t for him, though, but he did like to visit.

My sisters liked to bring their kids to the farm for a visit, as did my cousin with hers.

My wife Robyn, also a farm kid, absolutely loved the farm, and enthusiastically packed blueberries whenever she could.

Even my stepson Carter got in on the act, and showed a natural affinity for farmwork.

Our granddaughter, Piper, loved tractor rides — which I suppose makes her the sixth generation.

Ninety-seven years, man. A lifetime of memories. Learning to drive — first on a forklift, then a backhoe, then a blue 89 Dodge. Laughter. Tears. Blood and sweat. Every emotion, every experience imaginable.

And now that legacy is under someone else’s care.

I wish them well, and hope that the land is as generous to them as it has been for us. May they forge the type of memories that we were blessed to experience.

And may that mulberry tree outlive us all.

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