2021 04 HE Tama Matsuoka Wong

Tama Matsuoka Wong of Meadows & More harvests Juniper to make Wild Cedar firestarters. (Photo by Lisa Wolff.)

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a forager, weed eater, meadow doctor, lawyer and mother of three. She has written several books including a James Beard award nominated cookbook Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market.

Now Wong’s company, Meadows & More, has partnered with Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space to sell Wild Cedar firestarters to the public, with the goal of raising enough revenue to maintain her farm assessment.

The firestarters will be sold at Pennington Quality Market. When PQM owner Mike Rothwell heard Wong’s story, he knew immediately wanted to help.

“As a local business, PQM has always focused on giving back to the community. We have been a longtime supporter of FoHVOS, and when they told us about Tama, we knew that the Hopewell Valley community would want to get behind this effort to help a local farmer and we were happy to distribute their Wild Cedar Firestarters.”

After graduating from Harvard Law School and spending more than 25 years as a financial services lawyer in Tokyo, New York and Hong Kong, she returned with her family to New Jersey and rediscovered her passion for the natural world. In 2007, she was named Steward of the Year by the New Jersey Forest Service. At present, she is a tenant farmer for the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space in Hopewell Township.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Wong farmed and foraged at the Marshall’s Corner Preserve (formerly known as Thompson Preserve). Employing sustainable practices, she harvested and sold unique organic plants as specialty ingredients to high-end restaurants in New York City.

When the pandemic hit, restaurants shut down, and Wong lost her customers overnight. Adding to her misfortune was the risk of not meeting the minimum income requirements to qualify for farm assessment on the property.

Wong notified FoHVOS stewardship director Mike Van Clef of her tenuous position, and together they sought out solutions to avoid “losing the farm.” As they walked the land, Van Clef noted that the wild cedar (juniper) trees needed to be removed in order to maintain and properly preserve the meadow.

“Removing the underappreciated, weedy, local tree helps restore the land.” Wong said. “I never like to waste anything, so I researched ways to repurpose the juniper. When I found out that Native Americans revered our local juniper trees for its ‘hot flame,’ I knew I was onto something.”

Wong began experimenting and found if she lightly kiln-dried the wood, they became highly flammable and less smoky, resulting in the perfect firestarter. Simply toss the entire bundle in the fireplace or pit, add wood and light.

Wild Cedar Firestarters are $5/each or 3 for $12. Profits will go to FoHVOS. Unlike other firestarters, they contain no wax or chemicals. Just locally harvested, kiln dried juniper wrapped in natural paper.

Lisa Wolff is the executive director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. Email: lwolff@fohvos.org.