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  • NJCFC Press Room

    Sustaining New Jersey Agriculture Benefits Everyone

    by Gray Russell

    New Jersey Council of Farmers’ & Communities

    One of the enduring pleasures of summer is the appearance of fresh fruits and vegetables as close as your local community farmers market. Each week until Thanksgiving, New Jerseyans have a marvelous and all-too-rare opportunity to not only purchase healthy, Jersey-fresh produce, taste delicious “slow food” nibbles from local chefs, listen to some live music, and mingle with neighbors in the bustling markets. The markets are a tradition as old a civilization itself, offering opportunities for those unfamiliar with tilling the land to actually get to know those who grow the food they buy.

    This pleasure shouldn’t be taken for granted. Community farmers’ markets are relatively recent arrivals in New Jersey, going back only as far as the early 1990s. Happily, they’re becoming more and more popular; 2007 will boast more than 80 throughout the state. Once as common as simply “going to market,” now it is a rarity, not to be taken lightly, to be able to personally ask growers about picking times, fertilizing practices, seasonal harvest schedules, cooking suggestions and recipes, or what sprays may or may not have been used (locally-grown produce is either organic or else uses much less pesticides than store-bought, due to new technology and shortened travel times).

    On The Road Again

    Our growers bring us just-picked produce directly from farms less than 60 miles away. This is a more sustainable and secure trade method than our predominant food system. Consider that the average American meal consists of foods that travel average distances of 1,500 miles. For example, a head of lettuce bought in a supermarket likely was grown in California. Yet New Jersey is called the Garden State!

    Our diet generally is extremely energy-dependent, especially upon oil. We require substantial amounts of cheap oil to grow and harvest, and then to transport, refrigerate, process, store, package, and sell our food. And distances between field and table are getting farther, as demand for year-round access to fresh produce increases, causing energy use to soar.

    As gas prices increase, every stage of our food system becomes more expensive and costs us more at the supermarket. This has a significant impact on our farmers, many of whom are struggling already. In addition, our globalized food system is increasingly vulnerable now to disruption due to oil shortages, weather catastrophes, even terrorism.

    It is estimated that if a major disruption happened, New York City has only a two-to three-day supply of food. After that it would begin to get ugly. A region that is instead dependent on a closer food source and delivery system is a more self-reliant community.

    To paraphrase the common dictum: They aren’t making any new farmland. Once we lose a farm there is no getting it back. Either our New Jersey farms are supported by our purchases of their products or they will disappear. And like extinction, that’s forever.

    Currently, our federal government props up the long-distance food supply lines through oil, water, and highway subsidies. We should be also promoting sustainable agriculture, locally grown foods, and energy-efficient transportation.

    Farmers’ markets and CSAs (community-supported agriculture food co-ops) eliminate unnecessary food travel and improve local food security. They also use less packaging than shipped or processed foods, which means less energy wasted and less garbage requiring disposal, too. Like the Victory Gardens of WWII, they are a patriotic way to feed our families.

    Summer-Fresh Fruits And Veggies: Now In Community Farmers Markets

    Mid-June through October

    Trenton, NJ (June 26, 2007) — Eating locally grown food is a treat to taste buds that’s finally catching on. Like “wake up and smell the flowers” was to baby boomers, “eat local and savor the flavor” is becoming a mantra for today’s grown-ups. They may be virtual foreigners to farming, but they are discovering that produce purchased within a few hours of picking can make eating vegetables a gourmet experience. But, how to make sure that produce at New Jersey’s farmers’ markets really is just picked from Garden State farms? That dilemma was the impetus more than 15 years ago for forming the New Jersey Council of Farmers & Communities. Today, it boasts more than 30 member markets, which proudly display the NJCFC distinctive logo.

    The council also matches up farmers with the community markets. “NJCFC inspects all participating farms, reviews their crop plans to insure that what they sell is also what they grow and assists member markets in finding appropriate farmers,” says John Melick, president of the NJCFC.

    Connecting The Table With The Farm

    Community Farmers’ Markets are reviving a tradition as old as history itself — connecting people who eat with farmers who feed them. These markets are proving themselves invaluable to the customers, while helping to keep New Jersey farmers viable in a worldwide, competitive marketplace. They serve not merely as shopping venues, but as community gathering places, where people gossip and exchange ideas and recipes with friends and neighbors and query farmers on how food is grown and best prepared.

    Why Buy Direct From Farmers?

    “Farmers can tell you exactly when their produce was picked, how it was grown, what soil conditions give it distinctive flavors,” says Melick. “They can provide tips on preparation and storing and many other useful bits of information. Farmers relate that they benefit from this interaction as much as customers, gaining insight into what’s popular and what’s not, and why. Such info helps in planning crops for seasons to come and what should be harvested for this season’s markets.”

    Eat Local…We All Benefit

    Buying local is buying fresh. Just-picked food retains more nutrients; saves on storage and reduces costs and pollutants of distance transportation – all else aside, it truly does taste better. Even Time Magazine, in a recent cover story, stressed the importance of eating local, even over organic, which is not immune from long-distance shipping.

    New Jersey farmers grow well more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, ranging from the most common everyday shopping-cart items to more exotic Asian, Caribbean and European varieties, as well as organic. On average, the food travels no more than 50 miles from where it was grown. Several markets feature local organic produce, as well as cheeses, herbs, cut flowers, ornamental plants, organic eggs, poultry and meat. Some offer weekly entertainment and special events. All feature New Jersey farmers dispensing tidbits of friendly information and samples of their wares….”try these apples—they’re a new variety;” “Heirloom tomatoes vary greatly according to type and the soil.” Their farm-fresh wisdom is free, whether you buy or not.

    The New Jersey Council of Farmers and Communities is a non-profit organization serving as a liaison between New Jersey Farm families and member markets. Its mission is to support and strengthen New Jersey communities while protecting and encouraging farming in the Garden State. Supporting organizations include the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, New Jersey Farm Bureau and New Jersey Highlands Council. Most NJCFC Farmers’ Markets participate in the state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Seniors’ Farmers’ Market Nutrition programs, making fresh produce available to those in need.

    Community Farmers’ Markets operate weekly, from June through October. However, specific days and times of operation may vary or change, so it’s best to call the market you wish to visit, or check the NJCFC website, www.jerseyfarmersmarkets.com for information on member market schedules.

    Following is a calendar listing by day of the Council of Farmers & Communities member markets, with contact information. For further information, check the website or contact the New Jersey Council of Farmers & Communities (NJCFC), P.O. Box 1114; Madison, New Jersey 07940-1114. phone 609- 393-4763.

    Note: The following schedule contains listings of participating markets as of June 25, 2007. Additional markets may be added at later dates.