This has been a strange year for produce. Cool temperatures and more rain than a jungle conspired to make this a tough time for farmers. Of course, the baked goods, pickles, and deli items that make up a huge percentage of farmers' markets will be out in force, but that doesn’t help those of us searching for local produce our state is famous for.
Like many adventurous New Jersey eaters, I keep winding up in Elizabeth. Famously known as a place where you can “eat or get in trouble,” the Elizabeth farmers' market is in an immigrant restaurant paradise, but all that was there was one farmer and a candy and dried fruit vendor. Although Elizabeth is a great restaurant town—it’s New Jersey’s Jackson Heights complete with elevated trains—the market didn’t do justice to what was around it.
Millburn is the sort of market that New Jersey local foods enthusiasts hope for. Right in the middle of an attractive town, not far from the highway, and with plenty of parking (and plenty of parking enforcement), at least four farms were out on a sunny Tuesday including E.R. & Son Farm, one of the states oldest organic growers, Alstede Farms from Chester, ORT Farm from Long Valley, and Vacchiano Farms that had coolers of poultry and red meat behind their produce display.
At the stands, I saw everything you’d expect from a great summer except tomatoes. Alstede has some that were a bit too supermarket-y looking for my taste and the other farmers reported that the heirlooms New Jersey consumers expected were a bit late this year. The E.R. folks, for example, promised that they’d have some great tomatoes in a few weeks. Otherwise, come to the market for onions, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, corn, and even broccoli and cauliflower.
Wondering if going a bit more south would change things, I headed over to Freehold, where two vendors held forth in a pleasant downtown. At one which just called itself “the farm,” I asked about the weather and was told “we’re hanging in there, it was a terrible June.” When the subject of tomatoes came up, “we’re going to have them, they’re just going to be late” was the answer they offered after some deep and serious thought.
Across the way, Hauser Hill Farms had a smattering of tomatoes—a few red, a few green. Not the sort of exciting display you’d hope for, but enough to make a salad or a sandwich. On the other hand, peaches from both stands were ripe and flavorful, something unexpected during this rain-soaked season.
This leaves me with one last point. Like Ridgewood, both Millburn and Freehold are really nice towns that are worth visiting for just a stroll, a cup of coffee, or a visit to their modest and excellent farmer’s markets. We keep hearing how mall and chain- store infested New Jersey is, but you don’t have to go to them. You can buy fresh and local instead.
Elizabeth Farmers' Market
Union Square, Elizabeth
Directions: Union Square (between Elizabeth Avenue & High Street; map)
Open: June 9 to November 24, Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Millburn Farmers' Market
Main & Essex Street, Millburn
Municipal parking lot #1 (41 Main Street; map)
Open: June 16 to October 27, Tuesdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Freehold Farmers' Market
1 East Main Street, Freehold (map)
Open: June 10 to October 21, Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.