At first, the sheer beauty of the surroundings is distracting. Set back from a country road with just a small sign to announce it, Johnson's Locust Hall Farm comes into view with meadows, vistas and buildings that look like something out of a storybook. The farm itself dates to 1692, with a house and a magnificent stone barn that have been standing since 1787.
The place in Jobstown, Burlington County, is as imposing as it is simple.
Currently, the site is surrounded by thousands — yes, thousands — of sunflowers, which add to the fairy tale feel of it all.
Most of all, the farm is home to a family that has worked the land for three generations and has made agritourism a fixture in South Jersey. The original family property, Johnson's Corner Farm in Medford, was started in 1953 by William and Bette Johnson and is known for you-pick crops, children's field trips, and a bakery and produce stand.
When the Johnson clan was looking to expand, brothers Pete and Eric, who are sons of Bette and William, came upon Locust Hall, which had been fashioned into a bed and breakfast.
"It was definitely a case of love at first sight," Pete said.
The property on Monmouth Road had been on the market for a while, but in 2013, the timing was right. The second generation of Johnsons was actively seeking another location to join its well-known Medford farm, where family members lived in homes scattered around the property.
But which family members would resettle in Jobstown?
In the end, it was Pete who made the move, but as with the sprawling Medford property, Locust Hall would have an open-door policy among family members. Children, and now grandchildren, live on the property in separate but nearby homes.
"Yes, it may sound unusual," acknowledged Brenda Johnson, who met Pete when they were teenagers and is now famous for her Sunday family meals open to all Johnsons.
It took a bit of time and patience to get all Locust Hall's systems primed. Matters involving electrical and plumbing alterations generally were put in the hands of experts, but much of the work was done by family members.
"One of the things that made me love this house from the start was that we recreated the kitchen to replicate an old farm gathering place," Brenda said.
Just as the exterior of Locust Hall is a blend of rural and classic, so, too, is the farmhouse interior.
Oriental-style rugs and exquisite tables of the finest woods coexist with more rugged, country classics, such as the kitchen's expansive farm table.
The foyer is painted a deep blue, and an entire room is devoted to all things equestrian, a tribute to Brenda's long and happy history as a rider.
The house also has a whimsical side. At one end of the kitchen is a weathered door hanging on a wall. It was saved from an old outhouse and has initials of users carved into its surfaces.
A traditional dining room accommodates the overflow when the growing Johnson family gathers for more formal occasions.
Locust Hall offers a venue for increasingly popular farm weddings. Part of the vast upstairs in the house has been transformed into a bridal dressing room, complete with hair and makeup stations. The historic barn is available for ceremonies and receptions. Daughter-in-law Allie Johnson, who herself was married on the farm, has taken over wedding details.
The public area doesn't compromise the private space for Brenda and Pete, who have an elegant master bedroom suite designed in blue and white tones with a four-poster bed as a centerpiece.
Reality check: Country life may look peaceful, but on this working farm, days begin at 4:30 a.m. and sometimes end long after dark. Crops include strawberries (May and June), sweet corn (July and August) and apples (September and early October).
During the summer, especially, farming is a full-time-plus occupation, say the Johnsons, who describe working together as a family as the most rewarding life they could imagine.
"We truly celebrate farm life and this home," Pete said. "It's a wonderful place to remember how so many used to live and to celebrate that we still do."
The sunflower celebration at Locust Hall Farm continues through Sept. 30. The farm is at 2691 Monmouth Rd., Jobstown, N.J. For more information, visit johnsonslocusthallfarm.com or call 609-353-9000.