Bringing The Garden State To Our Cities

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

In the concrete landscapes of New Jersey’s cities and suburbs, urban farmers markets are oases of fresh produce, good nutrition and community.  They’re a reminder that the state we’re in wasn’t dubbed “The Garden State” for nothing.  And their numbers are growing!

New Jersey has more than 125 farmers markets, up from 98 just a year ago, including markets in most of our cities.  It’s clear just how great an idea they are for growers and consumers alike.  Everyone from restaurant chefs and institutional dieticians to parents and kids can be found squeezing fruit and sniffing vegetables at farmers markets!

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Farmers markets “cut out the middle-man,” allowing growers to make a greater profit by selling directly to their customers.  The produce itself is generally fresher and tastier than that brought in from far away.  And it pollutes less because it’s local and not trucked in from 500 or 5,000 miles away.

Farmers’ markets also provide something else in short supply in our over-stimulated world:  community.  Shoppers and growers enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and comfortable camaraderie.  Cooking classes, educational programs and entertainment are often available, as well as homegrown wisdom and menu ideas from the farmers who know the produce best.
In New Jersey’s cities, farmers markets have an especially important mission:  bringing in fresh produce where it might not be available.

Many of New Jersey’s urban residents have limited access to fresh produce of any kind. Some urban neighborhoods have no grocery stores; others have stores that don’t stock fresh produce.  Residents are left with processed foods that can contribute to obesity and a host of other health problems.

Healthy nutrition is critical to children’s learning ability. Urban farmers markets offer local residents a chance to improve their kids’ nutrition and overall well-being.

In downtown New Brunswick, one of this year’s new farmers markets provides education about the importance of good nutrition, as well as fresh produce.  The fruits and vegetables at the New Brunswick market are sometimes just hours old and come from farm fields in Middlesex County, about 20 minutes from the market!  Cooking demonstrations provide practical know-how about preparing fresh produce.

Other New Jersey cities with farmers markets include Newark, Camden, Trenton, Paterson, Jersey City, Hoboken, Elizabeth and Asbury Park.and Atlantic City. Two great farmers markets in small cities are the Dvoor Farm in Flemington, operated by the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance, and the Woodstown market in Salem County.

Check out the New Jersey Agriculture Department website for a searchable database of farmers markets.  You can search by produce or geography.  In addition, Edible Jersey magazine has a quick list organized by county.

We’re at the peak of the summer growing season, so now’s the time to visit your local farmers market!

Eat your fruits and veggies, and visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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