WOOD-RIDGE NJ -- Commuters on Route 17 in New Jersey are used to driving past sprawling malls, big-box stores, and fast-food restaurants.
But for a quarter century, they've also been passing a small farm in Wood-Ridge that is lovingly maintained by Romolo Faustini, who turned 89 in August.
While it may be small, this farm is the world to Faustini, who spends much of his day caring for the vegetables that will yield a veritable cornucopia of food, including corn, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Faustini's lucky family and friends are the beneficiaries of this bounty.
The good-natured Faustini's No. 1 enemy is pesky weeds, for which he has no tolerance.
Faustini gets help from his son, Rick, and his grandson, Tim, who has introduced new crops like potatoes to the mix and maintains an Instagram page showcasing the bounty his grandfather's toil yields.
But make no mistake: This is very much Romolo Faustini's farm.
The farm began as a fruit stand, one of three maintained by the Faustini family. The family also had a farm down in Carlstadt. When it closed 25 years ago, the family brought 150 loads of topsoil and placed it here, allowing this slice of shaley dirt to become a fruitful farm.
Faustini arrived as a young man from Italy, becoming a bricklayer and starting a family. But whenever he wasn't laying bricks, he was putting his green thumb to good use on the land.
"He farmed in Italy, when he was a kid. He loved the farm. But he came here and he stayed close to his roots. Literally," said Rick Faustini, who operates the tractor on the farm.
"The machine can't do it nearly as well" as his dad, who cultivates the farm by hand, Rick Faustini said.
During the winter, the farm is never far from Romolo Faustini's mind.
Right after Christmas, Faustini is already growing seedlings by the window, and by the month of May, the worst of the cold safely in the past, Faustini begins another season on the farm.
"It's like looking forward to the first day of school. He can't wait to get out there and start working," Faustini's son said.
And Rick Faustini wants to make one thing clear: This is not all for show. His father, with some aches and pains to show for his 89 years, puts in long hours every day, from 8 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon.
Good luck trying to keep up with him.
Says Rick: "On a Saturday, I'll come and help for two or three hours. And after hour two, I'm shot. He's laughing at me and he keeps on going."
And don't expect Romolo Faustini to quit anytime soon. The farm, it appears, is the secret to his longevity and health.
"I want to keep myself active. I'll go as far as I can. When I can't, then I'll sit down and have a beer," Faustini said. "I want to show that I'm still alive."