By Dr. Hisham Moharram
Where: New Egypt, New Jersey
What: Organic production farm and value-added production with work-to-own option for individual and nonprofit farmer-partners
Mission/Vision/Principles: Ethical farming; food security/sovereignty; social justice rooted in education and a vision of shared ownership
The Story of Good Tree Farm
The Good Tree Farm project traces back to a decision I made at the end of 1981. I left hotel management as a major and switched to agriculture. I wanted an occupation that could fulfill my mission as a Muslim: helping the oppressed and subjugated break the chains of their servitude to those who exploit them.
In mid-2006, I pitched the idea of an organic farm to members of the central New Jersey Muslim community and got just under 10 percent buy-in; 26 investors contributed close to $540,000. The plan was to take five to seven years to complete the start-up phase, during which we would grow and sell edible crops—leafy greens, root crops, fruit crops, herbs, and spices—and complete the infrastructure we’d need to produce value-added products, like essential oils. Then, in the eighth or so year, we’d shift our production to value-added products made from aromatic and medicinal plants.
What does Islam have to do with this? Everything.
My understanding of Islam is that we each have to live to uphold justice and to call people to acknowledge their creator’s favor upon them. I sought to use my skills and education to address the wrongs of modern and commercial agriculture. When greed and the capitalist ethos of “the bottom line” drive our actions, investments, and career choices, everyone and everything pays a heavy price. We all have an obligation to heal people and planet.
I believe that Islam calls on every Muslim to find strategic partners in the effort to do good and forbid or prohibit evil. That is why I became a GreenFaith Fellow in 2011, and continue to seek out interfaith partnerships while working to make healthy organic food affordable to the poor in our community. Islam also requires us to empower the weak, and that is why I have created ownership opportunities for youth from marginalized minorities and offer them alternative careers through an entrepreneurship incubator.
At Good Tree Farm, aspiring farmers can acquire ownership shares in the farm in exchange for work hours. The goal is not simply to give land or ownership away, but to create apprenticeship and ownership opportunities for socioeconomically disadvantaged youth and faith groups.
We have also started to use our assets as leverage to encourage others to work together to establish Good Tree Farms in their communities. Instead of selling 55 acres to take advantage of the increased value of the farm property, we hope to inspire others to start their own farms, using the same model for shared ownership.
It is my hope to leave behind a network of Good Tree Farms, all majority locally owned and each co-owning in all the other properties as well, with the ownership in the hands of small impact investors; youth; single mothers; and marginalized and disenfranchised racial, religious, and cultural groups who care about their impact on people and planet.