Paramus-raised kids do all sorts of things when they grow up. But not many become farmers.
Brothers Lance and Todd Applebaum are different. Lance tells us about his meat business, Fossil Farms in Boonton; Todd’s Roaming Acres livestock farm in Lafayette; and the extraordinary outdoor feasts they produce together.
First things first, because we’re always hungry: Let’s hear about those feasts!
Lance Applebaum: Sure. Our Live Fire Farm Dinners happen through October. They’re a tribute to New Jersey’s agricultural cornucopia and to our state’s genius chefs. Each dinner’s guest chef composes an exciting seasonal menu that’s cooked outdoors on a large “live fire.” Nearly all the food served is Jersey-grown or -raised, and all the meat and poultry are from Fossil Farms.
Dinners kick off with a meet-and-mingle cocktail hour with inventive hors d’oeuvres and Jersey wine or spirits. For the seated dinner, guests can BYO whatever they like.
Where do the festivities take place?
We source Jersey-wide, but we celebrate at one place: my brother Todd’s Roaming Acres farm in Sussex County. We cook and dine outdoors on a scenic hilltop with just stunning views of the Kittatinny Mountains and Delaware River Valley.
It sounds like a peak experience.
That’s our aim. These dinners deliver more than amazing food amidst nature. They engage all the senses. Guests feel the warmth of the roaring cooking fires. They take in the aromas of sweet grass and flame-grilling meat. They hear birdsong, happy conversation, crackling fire. They gaze at sunset over the mountains. And, of course, their tastebuds are reawakened by fantastic New Jersey food.
When are your and Todd’s upcoming dinners?
They’re all on Saturday nights. This week, on September 9, Felix Gonzalez, who’s the chef de cuisine at Viaggio in Wayne (one of NJM’s best restaurants of 2023), has masterminded The Garden State Terroir. This is a five-course, fire-grilled banquet serving steelhead trout, heritage-breed duck and chicken, Berkshire pork and more.
At Summer’s Last Kiss on September 23, the chef is Mike Carrino, known for his “nose-to-tail” commitment to sustainable meat-eating. He’s doing dishes with crab, sea bass, rabbit, pheasant and pork shoulder. Chef John Schafer of Sam’s Bar & Grill in Ringwood is designing a bourbon-focused dinner on October 7. Our final fall celebration, on October 21, will spotlight chef Daniel Brunina of Sergeantsville Inn near Princeton. I should mention that we have 72 seats, and they sell out. To reserve, call Liz at 973-917-3276.
Does Fossil Farms hold more casual events?
Absolutely. You don’t need a reservation to come to our Food Truck Friday picnics, cooked on our mobile grill, which we started up during Covid and call “Game Changer.” The next one is this Friday, September 8, with an amazing à la carte menu. Sandwiches, hot dogs and chili made from Fossil Farms meat like wild boar, elk and bison—that one’s the hot dog. Call 973-917-3276 for more info.
I’m struck by your choice of career as a Bergen County kid. Why and when did you decide that feeding people would be your thing?
Todd and I learned a lot about the world when we were young. Our parents ran a busy, innovative diamond business; they specialized in brilliant new stones to set in dated heirloom rings. I grew up wanting to run my own business. Dad used to tell us, “You don’t need to be the biggest, just the best.” He’d also say, “Take care of your employees and your customers, and they’ll take care of you.” Of course, he was 100 percent right, and that’s how you build a legacy business. I’m trying my best to do that.
Did you have a lot of exposure to nature?
We did. Our folks owned a home on a big lake in northeastern Pennsylvania, and they owned horses that we stabled nearby. We spent a lot of time there, and it was a very outdoorsy life. We learned to explore, respect and preserve nature, and to feel at one with it.
Todd decided he wanted to be a farmer, and the business I dreamed of starting would help people lead a healthier life closer to nature. After a lot of family discussions, Todd and I teamed up to sell sustainable, natural, low-fat meat that we’d raise or source locally. I was 20 and Todd was 24. We called our business Fossil Farms as a tribute to our dad—yes, we called him “the fossil.” He didn’t mind then and feels so honored now.
Were you influenced by the farm-to-table movement?
This was 1997. No one was talking about that! But we were horrified by the dominance of inhumane “factory farming” and their meats full of hormones and chemicals. So we started out with what became farm-to-table principles. We don’t want people to eat more meat, but better meat. Meat that makes sense: local, nutritious, natural, flavorful; from free-range, respectfully treated animals. And this would be sustainable because we’d sell every edible part of the animal. We started selling our meats—ostrich was our first, bison our second—and Fossil Farms added online sales in 1998.
You were Internet pioneers!
We were. Our first employee, for website data entry, was my best friend from Paramus, Michele. She’s now my wife. Our son Ethan is 17, and our daughter Tessa is 12. They both have a lot of ideas for Fossil Farms. We now have 45 employees, and we’re an extended family, with many longtime staffers who believe in our mission. Some, like our sales and marketing wizard, Ben Del Coro, were originally passionate customers.
You run Fossil Farms and Todd runs Roaming Acres—separately?
That’s right. Todd eventually bought 130 acres of prime farmland in Lafayette, Sussex County. At Roaming Acres, Todd raises bison, ostrich, Berkshire pork and free-range chicken, all vegetarian-fed. And his bacon and burger meat are legendary. We work best this way, complementing each other and collaborating on projects like our Live Fire Farm Dinners.
Has Fossil Farms’s meat range expanded?
We focus on indigenous animals like bison. But our variety of meats is wide, comprising livestock, game meats and birds, and “exotics” like alligator and yak, for adventurous eaters. We sell a vast range of meat cuts, plus burgers, sausages, salamis. Some of our Berkshire pork and most of our poultry come from small family farms, many in New Jersey. Roaming Acres is one. All the animals we feature are naturally and humanely raised or nonviolently trapped, like the feral swine from Texas, which are overrunning that state.
Who were your first customers?
Chefs! They came to us because their diners were requesting tasty, lower-fat alternatives to beef. We listened to them—Ben Del Coro was one—and we added new products like elk. Our meats caught on with these chefs’ diners, who began to ask their butchers to carry our products so they could have them at home.
We now sell nationwide but have a strong presence in Garden State restaurants. Some prominent Jersey chefs we supply are David Burke—an early supporter—and Anthony Bucco, AJ Capella, André de Waal, Ryan DePersio, Robbie Felice, Tom Valenti and David Viana. (Says David Burke: “Lance is a visionary farmer/businessman who has brought [high-]quality products to New Jersey, the city and beyond. I’m changing to fall menus soon, and I always go out to Todd’s beautiful Roaming Acres bison/ostrich farm in Lafayette for inspiration.”)
You have a knack for staying in sync with the market.
Our business grew along with New Jerseyans’ support of local agriculture. It’s been 26 years now, and so many more people are deeply committed to nutrition and to sustainable farming.
We listen, learn and innovate. Our headquarters in Boonton is a foodie destination. Our store there, Fossil Farms Market and Kitchen, sells all our products and prepared foods, and hosts chef-driven tastings on Saturdays. I call the shop a “carnivore candy store.” We even run a podcast.
We have a lot going on, but it‘s all about healthy, humane meat-eating. We do catering and gifting, and we feed private clients. Fossil Farms services the New York Giants and Jets. Sure, our business has grown, but we stay close to our ongoing mission to create enduring change in the American food system. And, as Dad told us to, we strive to be not the biggest, but the best.
Fossil Farms, 81 Fulton Street, Boonton; 973-917-3276
Roaming Acres, 65 Big Spring Road, Lafayette; 973-202-9344
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