Berlin farmer did it his way

Edward Lawrence Stella had firm rules about the produce nurtured at his eponymous Berlin farm.

Jersey corn should never be smothered in butter, nor be anywhere near a salt shaker. Fat, juicy Jersey tomatoes are meant to be eaten like an apple.

“He would reprimand anybody who put butter or salt on his corn,” said Stella’s daughter, Barbara Jean Stella-Lang. She and her brother, Edward Jr., never attempted it at home either.

“Are you kidding? I didn’t want to get shot,” Stella-Lang laughs. “He was adamant about that.”

Stella died Aug. 28 at 97. Just four months before his death, he still rode his blue, 1988 Chrysler through the fields to check on crops that also included strawberries, peppers and greens.

Edward Stella was born on the farm that was started in 1921 by his father, Joseph Stella Sr. The younger Stella left school early to help in the family business.

As an adult, he toiled at night designing parts for the war effort and worked the farm during the day. In the late ’60s, according to Stella-Lang, Edward Stella took the reins — and took no prisoners.

He insisted on growing his tomatoes on stakes, a labor-intensive process that involved wrapping the plants tightly three or four times. When his children joined him in the business, Lang says, they soon learned it was dad’s way or the highway.

“He grew nothing that he wouldn’t eat himself,” Stella-Lang recalls of her father, who preferred his Jersey corn raw.

“He was about producing quality, not quantity … but you had to do it his way.

“He was Italian,” she adds matter-of-factly. “His favorite song was Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ That was his theme in life.”

Stella woke every day at 2 a.m. for house chores, then went out on the farm, which eventually grew to about 300 acres.

“He would often encounter problems …” Stella-Lang wrote of her father. “But if you asked him how he was doing, he’d respond, ‘I never had a bad day in my life.’

“There was no greater honor for Ed than to cultivate his land. He was truly dedicated to his calling.”

It was a calling he knew well. In a 2005 interview with the Courier-Post, Stella offered perspective on tomatoes.

“Beyond his farm stand on New Freedom Road, he (Stella) examined neat rows of staked tomato plants hiding plum, heirloom, grape and hybrid regular tomatoes. (Stella calls those ‘monkey faces.’)”

The story went on to report Stella ate three tomatoes a day.

“Raw, just plain,” he noted then. “No salt, no pepper, no nothing. Out of the field.”

His way.

(Written by Christina Mitchell and originally published in the Courier-Post)