The “Whys” Behind Cold Brook Farm — FAQ

1What are you growing on the crop field and why?
We grow heirloom grains using organic, regenerative agriculture. This area of New Jersey was the “breadbasket” of the original colonies and when combined with our love of baking, growing high-quality grains was a “no-brainer.” We achieved our official Organic Certification in May 2024, and have used organic / regenerative farming methods since shortly after purchasing the property. Our “organically managed birthday” was January 16, 2020 – the last time anything synthetic was used to manage our land. If you (or someone you know) live(s) in our area and are interested in converting your “conventionally managed” agricultural field to grow organic grain that is healthy for both you and our environment, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at
2What is a “Zero Net Energy Home?”
Cold Brook Farm was designed from the outset to generate as much energy as our family needs from solar power including everything that a typical family of four does within their house, as well as 30,000 miles per year of driving in electric vehicles. During some times of year, like the dark winter heating season, we draw more from the grid than our solar panels produce, but most of the year – especially during long summer days – the solar array generates far more power than we use, and this gets sent back to the grid. Over the course of a full year the “Net Energy” used from the power grid was designed to be zero, however, during our first two full years here we generated an excess 4.5 megawatts in 2022 and 6.1 megawatts in 2023, making Cold Brook Farm a “Positive Net Energy Home”!!!!
3What is Permaculture and how is it used at Cold Brook Farm?
Permaculture is a form of holistic agriculture (“Permanent-Agriculture”) that draws inspiration from nature to develop synergistic farming systems allowing for biological diversity, resilience, natural productivity and sustainability. Simply put, everything that has been planted within the two-acres immediately surrounding our farmhouse serves as a food source either for us or the other living beings with which we share this land. Not one “ornamental” plant has been employed in our landscaping – everything in our “garden” exists to support biodiversity.
4Is Cold Brook Farm “Off the Grid?”
No, but in theory it could be. Because CBF has its own well, septic system, solar power, battery storage / back-up power, geothermal heating and cooling as well as all electric appliances, none of the “typical” outside municipal systems and services most homeowners rely on (water, sewage treatment, electricity and natural gas) are necessary. CBF is “connected to the grid” for electricity as an extra redundancy in case our solar power and battery system ever fail, require service and/or generate an insufficient amount of power during certain times of year and weather.
5Why is CBF sited so close to the Road? Most new homes on large properties these days are located at the end of long driveways so that they are more private.
CBF was always intended to be both a residence and a working farm. For this reason, the siting of the home and barn were intended to balance the way our family lives on the property while maintaining the maximum amount of usable agricultural land. With our Permaculture Agricultural Plan now fully implemented around the homestead, just 0.5 acres of prime farmland were removed from agriculture. Additionally, farmhouses from the 1700’s and 1800’s (including those of our two nearest neighbors) were almost universally located close to the road.
6What are some of the foods you grow other than grains on Cold Brook Farm?
In our homestead area we grow over 55 different types of food—Nine types of berries, including Mulberry, Goumi, Blackberry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Honeyberry, Elderberry, Chokeberry, and Currants, as well as Asparagus (two varieties), Jerusalem Artichokes (also called Sunchokes), Apples, Pears, Peaches, Persimmons, and Jujubes. We also have a lovely selection of nut trees (Chestnut, Hican, Pecan, Hazelnut) which will come into production over the next several years. The onions we grow are called Egyptian, or Walking Onions. And we have many herbs, too. All the above plantings are perennial and will come back year after year. We also plant many annual vegetables—Carrots, Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Peas, Beans, Corn, Squash, Turnips, Radishes, Lettuces, Kale, Chard, Collard Greens, Garlic, and Potatoes.
7Why the Metal Roof?
We chose Galvalume for our roofs because they last a very long time, are architecturally correct for a barn and farmhouse, are recyclable and have a much lower environmental impact than more “conventional” asphalt shingles which are made primarily from oil, are not usually recycled and represent one of the largest sources of construction-based waste ending up in landfills.
8What is the “moat” around the back of the house?
The 314’ long crescent-shaped depression that wraps around the back of our farmhouse is an environmentally positive way of dealing with groundwater recharge and rainwater detention. The gutters on our farmhouse are tied into an underground 2,500-gallon cistern fitted with a pump that feeds six hydrants that can be used to irrigate our permaculture plantings and fruit and vegetable gardens. Once the cistern is full (during heavy rain events), it overflows into the rainwater detention basin along with runoff from other swales around the property that have been designed to flow into this basin. From here, the water slowly seeps back into the ground. We have planted this landscape feature with water loving plants like Elderberry, Aronia (chokeberry), High Bush Cranberry, native rushes and sedges and other perennials to take advantage of this unique micro-environment on the property.
9With all of the “advanced materials” available for siding, why did you choose finger-jointed Redwood?
Admittedly, wood of any kind is a higher maintenance choice than manmade materials like Hardee Board or any of the other “engineered” sidings. However, many of these require a great deal of energy to make, create hazardous silica dust when cut during installation and some are even made from PVC – an unfortunate material that is both impossible to recycle and harmful to the environment. The redwood siding used at Cold Brook Farm was glued together from thousands of small scraps and cutoffs that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill or been burned. Redwood’s natural oils create resistance to insects and decay and if properly cared for, it should last a very long time.
10Where did you source that gorgeous Weathervane?
Our “Trotting Fox” Weathervane was handcrafted for us by West Coast Weather Vanes of Santa Cruz, California. “Carol-Louise” (the name we have given our fox) is almost 42” long and made from hand-hammered copper, brass and gold leaf based on LizAnne Jensen’s proprietary design. As is traditional with hand crafted weathervanes, a penny from each Deborah, Steven, Julia and Jason’s birth years have been placed inside. Craftsmanship of this level (especially for weathervanes) is exceptionally rare in this day and age, and it is our pleasure to support the work of such incredible artisans.
11What are the many areas of high grasses and flowers in and around your homestead?
Lawns are not as healthy for the environment as areas with taller grasses and perennial plantings. Lawns typically require a lot of water, harsh chemicals, and provide little to no biodiversity for insects and animals. We opted instead to provide low- or no-mow areas planted with perennial native plants to build the foundation a diverse natural habitat within our homestead. We did this in partnership with NJ Audubon, who provided a grant from the Xerces Society in 2022 for 1,200 native perennial plants. In 2023, we planted two additional beds of native perennial plants to provide additional habitat for insects, birds and mammals in our area.
12Why did you choose Cellulose Insulation?
Natural Resources Defense Council has called cellulose insulation made from recycled paper “the least polluting and most energy-efficient” insulation in use today. We used Damp Spray Cellulose in the walls above grade, Loose Fill Cellulose in the attic spaces and Dense Pack Cellulose in the walls below grade because cellulose has the lowest environmental impact of any insulation material currently available. The Damp Spray and Dense Pack methods of installation provided us with R-3.8 per inch in our exterior wall assemblies and enabled us to insulate between the semi-hollow insides of the T-Studs used in our exterior walls significantly reducing thermal bridging. We used 20” of Loose Fill Cellulose in the attic spaces at R-3.5 per inch yielding R-70. All of this without any worry of the harmful effects on the environment of the spray foam manufacturing process or future indoor air quality issues resulting from potential outgassing from the spray foam. There is also the added benefit that cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspaper and cardboard that would have otherwise ended up in landfills while closed cell foam requires a tremendous amount of energy and petrochemicals to manufacture.
13How do you have so many windows in an “environmentally responsible” house?
By using triple-pane, argon-filled windows with “low-e” coatings we can have an incredible amount of natural light inside of our farmhouse without it being “drafty” or energy-inefficient. Our windows were made in Canada by a wonderful company named Loewen.
14Isn’t a gravel driveway a maintenance headache?
Well, frankly, yes it does require some more work on our part to care for than if we paved the whole thing with asphalt or concrete, but in addition to less than either of those options, we were able to source the gravel from a quarry less than two miles from our home and gravel also allows water to percolate back down into the ground rather than creating runoff. It also has the added benefit of looking far more appropriate for our little corner of the world!
15Did you need to do anything special to install solar panels?
Since Cold Brook Farm was conceived from “a clean sheet of paper,” our Architects (Bill Kaufman and Tom Vierschilling of WESKetch Architecture) purposely oriented the long portions of the house and barn (along with the associated roofs) facing due South. In the Northern Hemisphere, a due-south orientation is ideal for solar power generation. We have seventy-two (72) panels in total – fifty-six (56) 380-watt LG solar panels and sixteen (16) 405-wat REC solar panels spread across our four separate South-facing roofs. The deep eaves created by a pronounced overhang of the roofs on our farmhouse serve the purpose of letting sunlight into the house during the winter when the sun is low in the sky, but blocking the sun from overheating the house’s interior when the sun is much higher in the sky during the Summer.
16I’ve heard that “Locally Sourced Materials” played a big role in building Cold Brook Farm, is that correct?
Yes. We drove our Architects and Designers crazy with this one. Whenever we could we wanted to purchase materials as close to home as possible. Of course, depending on the material in question, “local” had slightly different meanings! • All bluestone that went under the foundations for both house and barn, the driveway stone, all drainage piping, etc. came from a Quarry right here in Oldwick, less than two miles from the Farm. • The stone exterior and wall are all from locally sourced and found stone. • The Walnut Mantle and wrapped Walnut Beams inside of the house actually came from a tree that needed to be cut down in the woods behind the house. We had it milled and kiln-dried locally as well. • The fence posts for the deer fence surrounding the house all came from Eastern Red Cedar and Black Locust that we harvested in accordance with a Forestry Management Plan from the woods behind our house. • The Live-sawn, White Oak floors throughout the farmhouse came from a family-owned, sustainably managed forest in Connecticut (Hull Forest Products). • The soapstone counters throughout the house and old-fashioned soapstone laundry sink in the basement were all from the last operational soapstone quarry in the United States in Albermarle, Virginia. Other soapstone presently being marketed in the U.S. comes from either India or Brazil – both of which involve an incredible carbon footprint to get them here. • The Danby Marble used on the bathroom vanities throughout the house comes from Vermont. • Although LG Chem is a Korean company, the high-performance solar panels that we chose were manufactured in Huntsville, Alabama. The other contender for making high-performance solar panels, SunPower, although an American company, their panels are all manufactured overseas. • The lumberyard from which the majority of the building materials used (dimensional lumber, plywood, exterior sheathing, nails, screws, etc.) came from Huston Supply in Oldwick – less than two miles from our home.