Other than a few herbs tucked into containers I don’t grow food. Many of my gardening peers probably consider me a vegetable gardening heretic. I lament that the small family farms and roadside vegetable stands of my childhood have given way to subdivisions filled with houses too big for their lots and way too many people in too small a land mass. Growing up in a suburban New Jersey town, I could play (read steal apples) in the orchard up the street which is now a swanky private golf course or walk a half a mile or so to a small sheep farm. My mother had milk delivered from a dairy farm across town that actually had cows–and the requisite summer produce stand.
My father, a great cook, made gazpacho from fresh produce and my mother would often send us on a walk to the local farm stand to buy tomatoes, corn and cucumbers for summer dinners. In August, the entire family pitched in to help my grandmother peel bushels of local peaches for preserves. My father and brother had a backyard vegetable patch known around the neighborhood for its enormous yet tasteless zucchinis. They chose the best spot in our yard. In my opinion, even then, their unruly mess of tomato supports, zucchini vines and peppers (this was not a romantic potager) spoiled the view from the house to the pond and the woods and stone walls beyond it.
For a short while in the early 90s, local, fresh vegetables were impossible to find. Forget about organic, it just didn’t exist. Then a small miracle happened–Jersey Fresh and Jersey Grown programs took off and weekly farmer’s markets began to pop up in parking lots and railroad stations in towns and urban neighborhoods all over the state.
Now, on Thursday evenings, Saturday and Sunday mornings I head out to the local markets–some within walking distance and none further than 3-4 miles from my house–to buy produce from New Jersey’s small family farms.
The organic produce, honey, cut flowers and even fresh roasted coffee and artisanal cheeses make their way to my kitchen and the summer feast ensues. I’d rather grow flowers on my small plot of rented land and support the remaining farmers in my garden state.