"It was as if the blight and bad weather were a deep, personal secret."
If you live in urban New Jersey and decide to head out to the countryside, you have several kinds of countryside to choose from. Down in Salem and Gloucester Counties, the land is flat and the farms stretch as far as the eye can see. The small towns have a Southern feel to them, amplified when you remember that you’re not far from the Mason/Dixon line. But there's another rural New Jersey—hilly, forested, and punctuated with small farms. While this part of the state isn’t quite as remote as “down south,” it still offers some incredible farm visits.
So let’s head out towards the far west of the Garden State, to the area wedged between I-78 and I-80.
Donaldson’s Farm, Hackettstown
Donaldson’s is a cross between a good produce shop and a farm stand. Their display had plenty of cherry, grape, heirloom, and yellow beefsteak tomatoes, marked “Our Own,” as well as a table covered with beefsteak tomatoes from Sweedsboro, in New Jersey's deep south. Clearly, there were far fewer tomatoes this year than in previous years—but nobody wanted to talk to me about it. It was as if the blight and bad weather were a deep, personal secret.
That didn’t stop me from shopping. I bought local garlic and a mozzarella simply labeled as "Local," without any name or contact information. It was chalk-white, like a mozzarella from an Italian deli, rather than the bone yellow of the few American farm-made ones I’ve had.
Stoneyfield Orchard, Belvidere
It was time for an adventure. I set my GPS for “Avoid Highways” and “Shortest Distance,” and punched in the address for Stoneyfield Orchard. Soon I was in a part of New Jersey so rural it could easily be mistaken for Vermont. After spending a few minutes trying to find the wonderfully camouflaged parking lot of Stoneyfield, I went over to the vending area, where a woman named Kelly presided over a table filled with tomatoes, onions, peaches, and apples. Kelly told me about the rain and blight and showed me what few tomatoes she had—a bunch of reds, and a basket of yellows that she was holding for a regular customer.
In a year of so few quality tomatoes, it seems there's more benefit than ever to knowing your local farmers.
5 Orchard Street, Belvidere (map) 908-475-5209 9:00am to 5:30pm
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