by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Finally! An election without negative advertising and mudslinging! National Farmers Market Week is August 1-7, and it includes a contest to choose America’s best farm markets. You can vote for your favorite local market through the end of August.
The Garden State has a rich agricultural heritage, but today that heritage is threatened. A new study by researchers at Rowan and Rutgers universities found that the Garden State just completed “the two most sprawling decades in history.” From 1986 through 2007, 324,256 acres (506 square miles) were urbanized; 178,000 acres of farmland and 115,000 acres of forest were lost.
One of the best ways to preserve farmland is to ensure that agriculture remains economically viable and family farms can stay in business.
National Farmers Market Week is a great reminder that shopping at local farm markets yields a bumper crop of benefits for consumers, farmers, the environment and the local community.
Farmers see better profits because they reduce the costs of packaging and transportation. Shoppers get fresher, tastier, more nutritious produce. Relationships are formed: Farmers can inspire shoppers to try new recipes, and shoppers can encourage farmers to try organic growing methods. And farm markets and related agritourism help spur the local economy.
Farmers’ markets in the Garden State continue to grow, from 98 in 2008 to 143 this year. New Jersey farmers produce more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and many offer dairy products, eggs, poultry and meat, as well as herbs, flowers and plants.
Coinciding with National Farmers Market Week, the American Farmland Trust is sponsoring a contest: “America’s Favorite Farmers Markets.” Go to www.farmland.org, look for the voting link on the homepage, and cast a ballot for your favorite farmers market. The contest began on June 1 and runs through the end of August.
Farmers markets are divided into four categories based on size: boutique markets are those with 15 or fewer vendors; small markets are those with 16-30 vendors; medium have 31-55 vendors; and large have 56 or more. Four winners will be chosen nationally, one in each size category. Winning markets will receive a package of promotional items and services to celebrate and advertise their status as America’s favorites.
To date, 25 farmers markets from all over New Jersey have been nominated, and results can be viewed online. If your favorite market isn’t listed, you can print out a registration packet for your local market owner to fill out.
Given the thousands of New Jerseyans who shop at farmers markets, it’s anybody’s race! Early returns, however, show Collingswood Farmers Market in Camden County out to a commanding lead with 301 votes – ahead of Dvoor Farms in Hunterdon County, the nearest competitor among small farmers markets in the state. Nationally, Collingswood is running in fourth place!
In the boutique category, Medford Lakes Farmers Market in Burlington County is ahead of Ringwood Farmers Market in Passaic County. Medford is running sixth in the nation.
There’s still time left in this election, so let’s show some Garden State pride! Take a trip to your local farmers market and stock up on Jersey Fresh produce. Then log on and cast your vote to put New Jersey farmers markets on the national scoreboard!
If you are want to find a market near you or see what’s in season, check out the New Jersey Department of Agriculture website at www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/index.html.
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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