The Garden State Conundrum

In a place known as the “Garden State,” community supported agriculture should be a way of life. Yet instead of an emphasis on what has made this region prosper, the farmland in South Jersey has steadily been disappearing. Large houses stand in place of chicken coops. Prisons have replaced cornfields.  The famous moniker is becoming a misnomer.

Drive a couple hours north to NYC, where farms exist on rooftops, and concepts such as “local,” “organic” and “farm to table” are the focus. And people are willing to pay more for them.

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Less than 3 weeks of growth

Each morning, I water the seedlings growing on my windowsill. Then I dump coffee grinds in the compost bag. On Sundays, I walk a couple blocks to the Columbus greenmarket to discard the week’s worth of coffee grinds, along with eggshells, dead flowers and inedible parts of the vegetables I’ve cooked. On Tuesdays, beginning June 10 through late November, I’ll pick up my vegetable share from Cream of the Crop, my local CSA (which you can still join if you haven’t already signed up for one).  I take all of this for granted.

But none of this exists in Cumberland County, where I grew up. 45 minutes away from, Philadelphia, AC and Cape May, it’s central location should have allowed it to grow and capitalize on the sustainability and local food movement.  But these concepts are foreign in an area that progress seems to have forgotten.

There's Nothing Like Jersey Fresh Produce!

Kernan Farms’ Jersey Fresh produce in NYC

You’ll find roadside stands during the summer, but no weekly farmer’s market. My local NYC greenmarket has produce from Kernan Farms in Bridgeton, NJ (otherwise famous for being the birthplace of Jonathan Adler), but I can’t even find this farm when visiting family – and no one I asked has heard of them.  Locals also have no clue what a CSA is – I just had to explain how it works to my cousin, who raises a few cattle on her 10 acres.

While Philadelphia-based chefs are cooking local food just over the bridge near Cherry Hill, NJ, casinos offer gourmet restaurants attached to celebrity chefs, and Cape May dining options focus on seasonal ingredients, nothing happens in nearby Cumberland County.  An area that is the essence of the “Garden State” motto doesn’t have one farm to table restaurant.  Instead, the current local food buzz surrounds the opening of a Red Robin, a chain hamburger joint, in the mall by the Chic-Fil-A.

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Photo of Brenmar Farms courtesy of The Vineland Daily Journal

So I was thrilled to read that Brenmar Farms is starting a local CSA. But at $600 for 24 weeks, it’s too pricey for this area, and I’m concerned that the locals aren’t going to be willing to pay extra for certified organic produce. But at least it’s a step in the right direction. And maybe it’ll get people thinking about what the region can offer.  Farms like Kernan could be able to make a profit in South Jersey, instead of traveling to NYC where those obsessed with “local” produce never considering the carbon footprint after 4 hours roundtrip.  Dare I dream that someone will open up a restaurant in the area that focuses on locally grown fruits and vegetables?  Too bad I can’t bring myself to move back home….

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