There's a certain pleasure in visiting Salem County. It's as rural as New Jersey gets and when you're driving down straight roads through flat farm country, it's a bit more like Alabama than Newark. Even though farms are everywhere in Salem, you don't find the kinds of farm markets you might find in Warren or Sussex. Here, there are small stands with a few items and an honor system cash box. And if you're lucky, you'll stumble upon a great little place—probably Mexican—for lunch.
My first stop was Rick's Country Produce. There were tomatoes and peppers still out even though it was October and an honor system cashbox should you want them. Soon Rick was out and telling me that summer was over. With fall coming on, I wasn't looking for tomatoes or peppers anymore, and Rick hadn't put any pumpkins out at all.
Next stop on the tour was Sauder's Farm Market. Besides having loads of flowers, this was a place for pumpkins. Traditional orange ones were everywhere and sizes ranged from mini to moderately huge. Besides the pumpkins, there were also a few watermelons and they all shared the feature of having their prices marked right on the outside—no labels or tags, as if nobody like me was ever going to come and take a picture.
Just as I was getting carried away with the notion of how rural everything was, I found myself across the county line and in a mess of sprawl. There in a strip mall was Saigon Vietnamese Asian Cuisine. I was dumbstruck, in this part of the state, you can expect diner, pizza, and Mexican, but Vietnamese?
I did a rather amazing 270-degree turn on Route 47 and soon found myself in the most cheerful Vietnamese restaurant in the state. I was greeted with, "You've been here before, right?" and panicked for a moment—no restaurant deserves two or more of me as a customer. They did have a pho lunch special: Eight bucks got me a summer roll, a small bowl, and a Diet Coke. A good Vietnamese lunch in a place I wouldn't have expected it.
I had to wonder though: "What were they doing here?" I asked a few questions, got nowhere, and then remembered that the area's biggest Vietnamese population wasn't in the New York City area, but in Atlantic City, not all that far away. Realizing that this was yet another topic to add to my very long list of potential New Jersey Dispatches, I finished my lunch and headed back out on the road.
One of the biggest problems I have with New Jersey in general is that it's so varied that I can never be too sure of myself. Any day out exploring is bound to turn up something that changes my view. I wish that I could say that after almost a decade "I know the place." And after a stop at Weaver's Farm Market—on the other side of Pittsgrove Township and closer to the "twin bridges" (the only Salem County landmark that people up in the big city know), I felt like I knew the state even less well.
I was pleased enough by Weaver's when I first got out of my car. There was corn, sweet potatoes, and apples. Then, when I started looking for permission to take pictures, a Mennonite girl came out. I asked if she'd come over from Lancaster County but no; this was her family farm and there was a large Mennonite community in Salem. I was dumbstruck. Mennonites are a sign that you're in serious small farm country. Of course, the Garden State is already that, but here was another reminder.
In New Jersey, this is all in a day's work: tomatoes, pumpkins, pho, and Mennonites. What's next?
Rick's Country Produce
185 Richwood Road, Monroeville NJ 08343 (map) Appears to be unmanned, but officially 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday.
Sauder's Farm Market
184 Almond Road, Elmer, NJ 08318 (map) Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saigon Vienamese Asian Cuisine
Weaver's Farm Market
762 Garden Road, Pittsgrove NJ 08318 (map) April through October, Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
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