The history of farming dates back to the earliest days of Colonial times, when agriculture was the chief industry in Freehold, and continued as such for many years throughout Monmouth County. Freehold Township was the nucleus of the farming district in New Jersey for many years.
The peak farm acreage in the county existed in 1920, when 206,856 acres were used for agricultural purposes. Around 1924 there were about 25,000 acres of potatoes in the county. 30,000 barrels were reportedly shipped per day from the Freehold center. Freehold was the best public market in the state, doing a retail and wholesale business, sending out about 75 railroad cars of perishables a day.
Important to the potato industry and to farming in general was the discovery in 1770 of marl on a farm in what is now Marlboro. Marl proved to be an excellent fertilizer and soon became an ancillary business.
The first Monmouth County Agricultural Society was organized at Freehold, April 26, 1828 but was short-lived. The second agricultural society was formed December 17, 1853. Incorporation followed in 1857. One of the most influential societies in the state, its membership was over 350 the first year. The Monmouth County Board of Agriculture was formed on August 19, 1884 at the Monmouth Grange Hall at Wemrock, west of Freehold, by a group of local farmers.
Publications were of great importance to the farmer in the early days. Of special interest through its literary connection was the Monmouth Almanac published by Philip Freneau, the poet of the American Revolution.
The Freehold Institute, a boys' school built in 1847 at a cost of $10,000 offered a course in agricultural chemistry in 1855. The institute recognized the need for trained leaders in agriculture and the importance of agricultural instruction in the farming region of which Freehold was the center. The institute continued to be active into the 20th century. In 1911, Freehold High School opened the first department of agriculture in a school.
Of great importance to area farmers for many years was the Market Yard (now known as Market Yard parking lot) behind the hotels which fronted on Main Street in Freehold. Farmers from miles around would bring their produce, eggs and chickens and sell or trade them from the backs of their wagons or, in later years, their trucks. They also supplied local grocers and individuals as well.
There was also the Farmers Exchange near the railroad tracks on Broad Street. This is where the potatoes would be loaded on the rail cars for shipment to other areas.
By 1966, Monmouth County ranked first in the state for soybeans and for grain production, first in white potato production, second in growing wheat for grain, and second in apple production, as well as second in cabbage and sweet corn crops. A high proportion of the fruit and vegetable production was in the western portion of Monmouth County, including Freehold Township. Monmouth County led the state in the number of potatoes raised until 1985.
Joseph Brakeley operated a factory for canning beans on Manalapan Avenue. The beans were raised on thousands of acres in the Freehold vicinity.
For more information on this and other facts about Freehold, please refer to the book by Jeanette Blair, "Freehold Township: The First 300 Years," published in 1993. Copies can be purchased through the Heritage Society.