Southern New Jersey abounds with local farm markets, and evidence of why we’re known as the Garden State
Having grown up in the epicenter of southern New Jersey’s celebrated agriculture industry — our first, and worst, employment was picking eggplants in south Vineland — we thought it timely to offer readers advice about some outstanding local farm markets.
These sorts of enterprises are worthwhile for a number of reasons. First, food is incredibly fresh, sometimes even harvested that very day. Second, there are big bargains to be had, by eliminating several layers of middle and retail purveyors and dealing directly with the grower. From a purely karmic point of view, there’s something infinitely gratifying supporting the hardworking, devoted families who provide such exquisite vegetables, fruit, flowers and related products.
We’ll start with Butterhoff’s Shady Brook Farm (5800 White Horse Pike/Route 30), easily the area’s oldest — established well over 100 years ago — located on a rural stretch of blacktop smack dab on the border between Galloway and Mullica Township. We stopped here less than a week ago and were delighted to still find moist, just-picked Jersey corn, although they weren’t making any promises about how much longer it would last. Another real treat were cranberries, among the first of the season, just out of some local bog no doubt. Lush, fat concord grapes, bluish-purple and dripping dew, were also prominently on display.
Late-summer products tomatoes, eggplant and peppers still lingered like that corn, sharing space on shelves already laden with squash and pumpkins. That should last until about the time of our first frost, sometimes not until early November. We were informed during our visit that although this larger operation will close on Oct. 31, an informal honor stand would remain up just a few hundred yards away, through the winter season.
For a reminder that Egg Harbor Township was once a decidedly rural environ, check out Hackett’s Market on Mill Road, less than a mile east of the Fire Road intersection. At this time of year, they’ll have pumpkins, squash and gourds in great abundance. Hackett’s also farms their own herbs like basil, mint and thyme, plus bedding plants and hardy cold-weather items like colorful mums. Contained within their building is a small in-house bakeshop and deli, in addition to their year-round, quality fresh produce.
Just behind the Festival at Hamilton Shopping Center, Pleasant Valley Farms (4520 Harding Highway), owned by the Boerner family, grows and develops a wide array of items. Initially, they caught our eye on Wednesday at Ocean City’s summer downtown farmer’s market, for their exquisite, oversized blackberries. And although those antioxidant-rich indigo beauties are long gone for this season, Pleasant Valley transitions nicely by offering a wide selection of apples, onions, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkins. The Boerner’s fresh-dug potatoes are a real taste treasure, as they possess much of the earthy character of their fertile native soil, near the Tuckahoe River. They also fashion an artisanal quality line of proprietary of jellies, jams and honey. We bought a luscious, deep-amber bees blend loaded with chunks of walnut. The honey — nature’s only food that never spoils; your fun food fact for the day — served brilliantly for standard uses, plus salad dressings and as a healthier, alternative topping for ice cream sundaes.
We’d be remiss not to mention the indisputed royalty of regional farm markets, Bertuzzi’s on Route 557 in Buena Vista Township. Stretching out across several acres alongside the highway, it’s a kaleidoscopic, snazzy showcase. The Rolls Royce of the industry for all that springs from the local terra. Quality is never an issue, and though you might pay a bit more than other humbler stands, everything they offer is pretty much gorgeous and perfect. Also, attached to the north side of Bertuzzi’s is a darn good bakeshop. We especially recommend their creative Fruits of the Forest pie, featuring an assortment of berries paired with apples.
If it’s that symbol of American enterprise that you seek, ride a few miles north to Simone’s on East Oak Road, also in Buena Vista, just a quick left turn off Route 557. At this time of year you’ll find at least a half-dozen varieties of apple, both reds and greens. Ten bucks or so will get you a bag big enough to fill half of your trunk. They also feature amazing pears plus exotic persimmons and for a very limited time, castagne (the Italian word for chestnuts.) Earlier in the season Simone’s will offer fine peaches, multiple kinds and colors of plums, apricots and their hybrid offspring, pluots. If you visit, be sure to say hello to Applesauce, the farm’s resident guardian donkey.
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