“Everybody knows the taste of Jersey corn,” said Janice Piccolo, vice president of the New Jersey Council of Farmers and Communities (NJCFC). “Unfortunately farmers are struggling because of the July drought, but by bringing Jersey farmers’ produce to local markets, we can keep Jersey growing and going.”
Before Union City resident Mary Olson took on the task to bring a NJCFC-certified farmers market to the parking lot of Troy Towers, there were 11 farmer’s markets in all of Hudson County, and not all were certified.
Union City’s, which started in June and is held every other Sunday, brings the total to 12.
“I love the corn and the tomatoes,” Olson said. “After tasting the tomatoes from Iona Hill Farms at our market, people have said to me, ‘So this is what a tomato is supposed to taste like!’”
Olson saw a need in the community for a more accessible market. While there are markets in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne, she found her immediate area to be lacking.
“Everybody knows the taste of Jersey corn.” – Janice Piccolo
The market also accepts Women Infant and Children’s (WIC) food vouchers. WIC provides federal grants to states for qualified low-income women and children who are nutritionally at risk.
“We need to get the word out,” Olson said. “At first we ran every week, but had to switch to every other Sunday because participation was a little slim. We hope to expand this service so it will become something people in this community can expect. I think it can only grow.”
The advantages of buying Jersey fresh
There are many benefits to buying produce from farmer’s markets, the most obvious perhaps being that the fruits and vegetables are literally picked from the ground and the trees the night before. In many commercial supermarkets, produce is left sitting on shelves for an unknown period of time.
“The term ‘local to table’ means many different, good things,” Piccolo explained. “Not only is it an issue of sustainability, but there are positive health implications, because the longer the travel and shelf time, the more the nutrients and minerals in the produce decrease.”
While there are around 150 markets statewide sanctioned by the N.J. Department of Agriculture, only 27 are NJCFC certified. The organization is non-profit and requires that participating markets and farmers pay a fee in order to pay the inspector, who makes sure everything sold comes directly from the farm.
This is why one won’t find mangoes or bananas or other non-Jersey products at NJCFC farmer’s markets.
“Jersey is very passionate about Jersey so we’re trying to help ourselves,” Piccolo said. “To stop the urban sprawl, we ensure the Garden State farms are protected, and we support farmers and help keep them working.”
Spreading the word
Olson plays an active role as the market manager as Iona Hill Farm’s radishes, scallions, lettuces, peaches, and blueberries go straight from the ground to family tables.
“Mary wanted to get this thing done,” NJCFC Market Inspector Pat Giordano explained. “She is one of the few who started a market and who has really invested her time into it. Most people start it and then let it ride.”
Both Olson and Giordano believe attendance will increase as the word gets out.
“The Towers is a real nice area as it’s centrally located,” Giordano said. “It takes a while for markets to build up; sometimes even years, but once people know they’re here, they will come.”
The draw is in the quality of the produce, which speaks for itself, Olson said.
Farmer’s markets also help to stimulate local economy and build community unity, according to Piccolo.
“There is this whole wonderful aspect of community spirit that the markets foster,” she explained. “It’s like the old European markets in town squares. People come together, talk together, support local farmers, and then move on to shop elsewhere locally, like the way things used to be.”
For more information on the NJCFC, visit jerseyfarmersmarkets.com. The next Troy Towers market will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 12 and is located at the north parking lot at 380 Mountain Rd. in Union City. It will run every other Sunday through September, and Olson hopes the city will permit it through October.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org