For Tama Matsuoka Wong, foraging for berries and greens in the meadows of New Jersey is a lifelong passion for the natural world — and a growing business. Meadows & More, Wong’s company, has taken a surprising and local turn, with her Wild Cedar Firestarters becoming a popular buy at Pennington Quality Market.
Prior to starting her business, Wong, a graduate of Harvard Law School, spent more than 25 years as a financial services lawyer; a position that took her from New York to Tokyo and Hong Kong. She later relocated back to Hunterdon County, where her interest in the natural land bloomed once again.
“I started by doing consultation work to introduce people to converting fallow spaces or lawns into meadow/more natural areas,” she explained. “Foraging as a business was not something I planned.”
When working with a New York City chef to find the best ways to make typical backyard plants delicious for her family, she noticed a rising interest in foraging had begun to develop within the culinary community. Wong’s cookbook, “Foraged Flavor,” was published in 2012. It details how to create delicious meals using edible plant ingredients that can be found nearly anywhere.
Following the success of her first cookbook, Wong’s vision for Meadows & More had the platform to come alive. Chefs and home cooks alike had taken interest in her methods of cooking using foraged ingredients and were eager to purchase her products. Gradually, she left her long-time job and began to expand the Meadows & More business, where she sold unique foraged finds to New York City restaurants.
Like many small businesses, the looming pandemic proved detrimental to Meadows & More, as sales dropped drastically nearly overnight. Wong faced the risk of not meeting the minimum income requirements to qualify for farm assessment on the Marshalls Corner Preserve where she forages, farms, and operates her business.
Luckily, Wong’s position as a tenant farmer for the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and connection to FoHOVOS stewardship director Mike Van Clef allowed her to avoid the loss of her property. Van Clef suggested that removing the wild cedar trees that populated the farm would be beneficial to its preservation as it would prevent the crowding of wildflowers that are crucial to the meadow habitat.
“FoHVOS has been involved with the owner of Meadows & More for many years.” explained Lisa Wolff, the Executive Director of FoHVOS. “In the past, she has been very successful selling the plants that she harvests to upscale NY restaurants for specialty dishes. Due to COVID-19, she was at risk of not meeting the minimum income requirements to qualify for farm assessment on the property, so FoHVOS got involved to find an opportunity to help.”
Wong put her creative background to use, as she repurposed the trees into what she determined would be the perfect firestarter. With the help of Wolff and Van Clef, the Wild Cedar Firestarters are now sold at Pennington Quality Market for $5 each, with $3 going to Meadows & More and $2 going to FoHVOS. These profits will not only help Wong maintain the property, but will also continue to help FoHVOS preserve more public land for the community to enjoy.
While Wong hasn’t ruled out adding more items to the local shelves, she said “for now, the firestarters seem to be doing well – especially for fire pits and barbecues!”
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