According to Douglas H. Fisher, New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture in an article he wrote for the Summer 2010 edition of Edible Jersey farming in our state is staging a bit of a comeback, from 1990 where the number of farms had dwindled to 8,100 to today where they’re topping off at over 10,000. Our state hasn’t seen numbers like that since 1966. Like the sound of that? I know I do, so to keep it coming (and to combat those haters who dismiss our fine state as nothing but a tangle of highways and toxic waste) it’s more crucial than ever to keep it local.
And why not keep it local? Food grown closer to home is fresher and therefore yummier (I’ve never heard anyone rhapsodize over a California peach except maybe a Californian). It’s also safer (smaller scale operations have more accountability). You’re supporting your local economy. Doing your part to keep farms in business—I don’t know about you but I’ve never heard anyone say New Jersey could use more strip malls. Reducing your food miles, in other words the environmental cost of getting your food to your table (local food spends less time on a truck burning fossil fuels and polluting our air). In the end, it’s good for you, your family, your economy and your environment.
Hitting your local farmer’s market instead of the grocery store produce department is perhaps the obvious place to start. But even grocery stores are making more of an effort to stock their shelves with Jersey goodness. The Jersey Fresh designation is one of many efforts on the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s part to raise awareness and drive consumers towards local produce. Over the past few years Whole Foods Market has also gotten into the locavore movement expanding their offerings beyond the produce department to include locally sourced meats, seafood and dairy as well as processed foods such as pastas, baked goods and more. You can now walk out of your local Whole Foods with a meal almost entirely of Jersey products.
So do you think you can do it? Make an entire meal sourced only from local foods?
A few years back I participated in a small internet movement that went by the name One Local Summer. The aim was to produce one meal a week made from nothing but local ingredients. Oils and seasonings were exempt, but other than that everything else had to be local. Over the three or so years I was involved I watched this small movement grow from a handful of bloggers to something much larger. In its final years I was one of the Northeast Coordinators, overseeing the submissions of bloggers from Maryland to Maine. And then it sort of fizzled out, not because people went back to their old ways of shopping and preparing meals, I don’t think. But because the cultural shift in our small posse was complete. It was no longer about that one special meal a week. New habits had taken hold and it had now become a way of life. At this point in the summer there is hardly a single fruit or vegetable on our table that isn’t Jersey Fresh. I recommend starting with one meal a week this summer and then seeing where it takes you.
But Jersey makes a whole lot more than just fruits and vegetables. You can also find meat, seafood (of course), cheese, dairy and more that’s born and bred right here. As I mentioned before, some of this other bounty can be found at Whole Foods. But if you have the time and inclination, visiting the source itself is a worthwhile experience. Cultivating a relationship with the people who make your food is, in my opinion, the final link in the food chain. And sourcing your meat and dairy locally is the perfect way to sever ties with the dismal and cruel factory farm system that produces the majority of our supermarket offerings.
And now that I have two small children joining us at the table, the stakes are higher and my food choices matter that much more. This summer I watched my son taste his first Jersey blueberries– a flavor he’ll come to look forward to each summer. He’s gobbled up Jersey potatoes, beets and squash. And this is how I want it to be for my kids. For them to experience food at its very best and appreciate all that it represents. I want them to learn to savor every bite when in the thick of the season so that they’ll also knows the pleasure of waiting, of going without and anticipating the turning of the seasons again. To me that’s truly tasting, enjoying and respecting your food and your home state.
Below I have included helpful links and resources for anyone interested in upping the local quotient in their meals. I’m sure I’ve overlooked many, so please include your favorites in the comments section below.
Meat & Dairy
Totten Family Farm, Long Valley
Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, Milford
Readington River Buffalo Company, Readington Township
Simply Grazin’ Organic Farm, Skillman
Beechtree Farm, Hopewell
Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville
The Jennings Farm, Medford
7th Heaven Farm, Tabernacle
Neptune Farm, Salem
Fruits & Veggies
Abma’s Farm Market & Nursery, Wyckoff
DePiero’s Country Farm, Montvale
Bloomfield-Montclair CSA, in partnership with John Krueger of Starbrite Farm
Alstede Farms, Chester
Stony Hill Gardens & Farm Market, Chester
Douglas Farm, Gladstone. Local producers of honey and honey products available only online.
Uncle Bill’s Farm, Bedminster
English Farm, Liberty Corner
Honey Brook Organic Farm, Pennington & Chesterfield
The Student Sustainable Farm at Rutgers, New Brunswick
Boxed Organics, Montclair
New Jersey Department of Agriculture – Find local farmer’s markets, farm stands and orchards and Christmas tree farms. Harvest availability chart.
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey – Keep up with the organic movement as it applies to NJ. Get involved. Useful search function for finding local foods.
Local Harvest – Nationwide search function for farms, CSAs, farmer’s markets, restaurants, Co-ops, meat processors and more.
Eat Wild – Search and locate local producers of grass-fed meat and dairy.