Local produce: glorying in the Garden State
Why is New Jersey different from all other states? Because we are the Garden State! And why are we the Garden State? Our secretary of agriculture, Douglas H. Fisher, gives the reasons: “New Jersey has 10,000 farms and 732,000 acres of farmland.” Our state has one of the most diversified agriculture industries in the nation, growing everything from nursery stock and sod and flowers to Asian pears, blueberries, herbs, and, of course, tomatoes.”
As Jews we have a tradition of celebrating both the land and the harvest. Passover is the holiday of springtime, a time of nature’s renewal, and one of the three festivals celebrating the harvest in the Land of Israel.
Fifty days after Passover, we celebrate Shavuot, Hag Habikurim, the time of the First Fruits, a time when the crops sown at Passover in Israel are harvested. Then in the fall, just days after Yom Kippur, comes Sukkot, the festival that celebrates the abundance of the autumn harvest. The preservation of land is a central theme of these holidays. Jews pray for dew or rain at the proper time to ensure abundant crops. Jewish tradition militates against abuses of natural resources and the environment.
By supporting local agriculture we follow these ideals. When the produce we consume is grown and distributed locally, we receive the freshest, highest quality produce, much of it is organically grown, and our environmental footprint is reduced.
New Jersey has 148 local farmers’ markets, and an increasing number of people are buying shares in CSAs, Community Sponsored Agriculture projects. How does this work? The purchase of a share is made before the growing season. This upfront investment gives the farmer improved cash flow and increased ability to invest in seed and fertilizer. The share holder receives a weekly or biweekly allotment of the farmer’s crops. There is an element of risk and reward: The better the growing season, the greater the yield and the reward. Many of the participants’ “goodie bags” may include some vegetables we are not very familiar with, and the growers often provide recipes for preparing the less familiar vegetables.
For further information and the location of CSAs, go to www.localharvest.org.