By Young Soo Yang and Lindsay RassmannFor residents, Jersey summers mean battling Parkway traffic to get to the shore, outdoor barbeques, music festivals and … fresh produce.
New Jersey isn’t called the Garden State for nothing. Agriculture, historically, has always played a key role in the state’s economy. But appreciation for that fact has surged in recent years.
There’s a lot of chatter nowadays about sustainability and locally-sourced, organic food. The increased demand for all things locally-grown is reflected in the proliferation of farmers markets throughout the state. Jerry Cafone, owner of Jerry’s Farm Market in Seaside Heights, has noticed more local farmers venturing out to towns to showcase their wares.
“A ton of towns do it now … like every Tuesday is a farmers market in such and such a spot and they’ll get five or 10 different farmers to come in with produce and breads and baked goods and honey and stuff like that and they go from one place to the next. They just pop up and set up in a different town every day.”
Cafone, who has been in the business of selling produce for 32 years, has witnessed firsthand the increased consumer demand for produce that isn’t warehoused, shipped and delivered. It’s what separates markets like his from the supermarkets, he says.
“I only do seasonal because that’s when the Jersey stuff is out. The rest of the year, it doesn’t make a big difference selling stuff they can get in a supermarket.”
Janice Piccolo, vice president of the New Jersey Farmers’ Market Council of Farmers and Communities (NJCFC), also stresses the importance of knowing what is in season. She says that while the number of local markets around the state has grown, she cautions that not all of them are true Jersey markets.
“So people see farmers market and they go ‘oh great they’ve got one here too.’ [But] it’s really just a produce store in someone’s private business that they’re sourcing produce from wherever they can get it, depending on what they’re looking for to source. So … we don’t start our markets until the Jersey season has things ready for our markets.”
According to Piccolo, one of the primary functions of the NJCFC is to inspect and source verify that markets are indeed Jersey markets according to specific guidelines. But consumers don’t have to go to a farmers market, she says, to find NJCFC-certified products.
“Their logos are used and the ‘Jersey Fresh’ logos are used. So even if you walk into a King’s, you see something that says ‘Jersey Fresh’ because the state Department of Agriculture has given them the right to use that label. But there’s not a lot of control on it right now. So I’m just not sure that all the consumers are educated to really realize what they’re getting.”
Jersey tomatoes are much sought after. But the state grows a full complement of fruits and vegetables. And summertime showcases the best that Jersey farms offer.
“The thing with the summertime is that you have squash and cucumbers, tomatoes and corn and strawberries and blueberries and peaches and everything that’s grown locally in Jersey,” said Cafone, who only deals with local producers. He says demand is high, both in-state and out-of-state, for Jersey-grown corn, blueberries, strawberries and peaches.
“A lot of South Jersey guys with their big farms, they ship up and down the east coast and to the Midwest,” said Cafone. “Most of the guys I deal with are small guys so they’ll deal with 10 different places like mine that buy corn or tomatoes or whatever they have. My guy that I get blueberries from ships all over the place once they’re in … He’s sending trucks all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania into New York and down to Delaware.”
The extremely mild winter caused many crops to come in earlier than usual. So consumers should be aware of that so they don’t miss out on their favorite fruits and veggies.
“The blueberries are earlier probably by two weeks, corn at least a week to 10 days earlier, and tomatoes we’ll have them this week and they’ll be earlier,” said Cafone. “Every year since I’ve been here, I’ve been in this spot for 11 years, and they come earlier and earlier.”
Visit the New Jersey Department of Agriculture for a complete schedule of harvest dates for New Jersey crops.