Fresh from the Farm

The economy might be in the tank, but New Jersey’s still got at least one growing industry: farming. That’s great news for anyone who knows the joy of “Jersey Fresh.”

According to a just-published survey conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, the value of New Jersey agricultural products sold in 2007 clocked in at almost $987 million, a 32 percent increase from 2002, the year of the last survey.

The state’s top two farming counties—Cumberland and Atlantic—are both in South Jersey. Anyone who’s driven the back roads to the Jersey Shore knows why. It’s all farm country, with lots of roadside produce stands along the way.

Even as the cost of food jumps and we are all pinching pennies, it’s great to have access to farm-fresh produce.

Last summer, when supermarkets across the country pulled tomatoes off the shelves as part of a national recall, I was still making Mediterranean salads—tomatoes included. Why? Because I knew where my tomatoes came from: New Jersey farms, bought direct from the farmers at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market. I had the same experience with the spinach recall in 2006.

There’s power in knowing where your food comes from—and peace of mind. Plus, the food just tastes better. Have you ever had a fresh Jersey strawberry picked that day? Compare it to an overinflated strawberry trucked in from California. The New Jersey strawberry is juicy and sweet; the California one tastes like cardboard. I froze Jersey peaches this winter and added them to a salad I brought to a holiday party in December. In the middle of winter, at least in my kitchen, I had the taste of summer. Nothing shipped in fresh could compare to that sweet peach.

Farmer’s markets will start opening around the state soon. You can search for one near you at http://www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/searches/urban.htm. It’s worth a trip—and a taste.

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