Farm to Parking Lot to Table

June 27, 2014
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taste-veggies-IMG_4680By Hannah Eckstein

It’s called the Garden State for a reason.

While the warm summer weather has New Jersey residents flocking to the shore to get a taste of the sand, sun and surf, the state has much more to offer than just its beautiful coastline. With its acres of bountiful farmland, the state offers tons of fresh produce, crops, vegetables and locally produced foods, sold at farmers’ markets around the state.

Just stop by one of these local outdoor markets and the taste of Jersey Fresh is there for area residents to buy newly harvested produce, locally produced fare and, often, handmade crafts. A shopping trip to any of these markets will make it clear just where this state gets its nickname.

New Jersey boasts more than 140 farmers’ markets throughout the state. Locating a market nearby is easy, through the, which lists farmers’ markets by county in New Jersey.

Monmouth County has 11 markets running throughout the week, including in Red Bank, Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, Long Branch and two in Asbury Park.

“I enjoy coming to farmers’ markets, because I never know what I am going to find,” said Donna Carter of Middletown as she shopped Friday, June 20, at the Atlantic Highlands farmer’s Market.

Carter said that, while she came with a short shopping list of carrots, zucchini and fresh bread, she knew she would leave with much more than those items in hand.

“It’s more exciting than shopping at a supermarket, because you find interesting foods and crafts. Talking to the different vendors and hearing their stories of how they make their products is very interesting,” Carter said.

Walking the rows of vendors in Veterans Park, one can find anything from handmade candles, soaps and jewelry to freshly picked ripe jersey tomatoes and eggplant.

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In addition, a rich diversity of ethnic foods, like traditional Polish pirogues and Italian breads and meats, tempt shoppers at the market, making it nearly impossible to leave empty handed.

Further down the coast, one market that offers a wide variety of different unique vendors is the Asbury Fresh Market at Kennedy Park in Asbury.

“I used to grow tomatoes and cucumbers in my garden,” said Steve of Crazy Steve’s Pickles and Salsa. Pretty soon, I had too many cucumber and tomatoes, and began making pickles and salsa with the extra vegetables. That’s how I started Crazy Steve’s.”

Crazy Steve’s, which sells such products as mango raspberry salsa, and Cajun cukes, sells its products along the Atlantic seaboard and is dedicated to using only produce made in New Jersey.

Like Crazy Steve’s Pickles, My Momma’s, a gluten-free bakery, also offers an interesting array of foods and samples. Owners Linda and True Kucharski recently chatted with shoppers who sampled their “chocolate euphoria gluten-free cookies” and gluten-free kale chips.

While sampling all of these foods may leave shoppers feeling thirsty in the summer heat, Smiling Earth Elixirs, a Long Branch-based herbal tea company, offers refreshing iced teas. “I love coming out here and seeing all the different people and vendors,” said owner, Stefanie Bierman, who has been selling her products at Asbury Fresh for two years.

In addition to these foods, vendors at Asbury Fresh offer a wide variety of handmade products, including natural soaps and creams, jewelry and pottery.

The most common theme linking all of these different products is that they are produced locally and that brings an added benefit to the community. A study done by a farmers’ market coalition showed that farmers’ markets return more than three times as much of their sales to the local economy than chain supermarkets.

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By buying locally, shoppers help to support small family farms, which face tough competition from today’s large chain supermarkets. In exchange for supporting these local farmers and vendors, buyers also benefit from receiving products that they know are fresh.

Among all the benefits of farmers’ markets, buyers and sellers seem to be drawn to the promise of getting to know and support their community. “It’s great to be able to support local markets by buying local foods and crafts,” said Andria Procopio of Asbury Park.

John Squicciarino. a vendor from Rolling Hills Farm, echoed that sentiment. “It’s great to see all my hard work paying off when I sell my produce to local buyers.”

That means that farmers’ markets are just one more thing to love about summer in the Garden State.

Area farmers’ markets include:

Atlantic Highlands: From noon to 6 p.m. Fridays through Oct. 10 at Veteran’s Park, First Avenue.

Red Bank: From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through mid-November, in the Galleria parking lot at Bridge Avenue and West Front Street..

Highlands: From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 1 at Huddy Park, corner of Shore Drive and Waterwitch Avenue.

Long Branch: From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through November at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Kossik Way

Asbury Park: From 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Oct. 3 on the Boardwalk at First and Ocean avenues and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 7 at Kennedy Park at the corner of Grand and Cookman avenues.

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