Demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables continues to increase in New Jersey.
John Formisano, president of Formisano Farms, Buena, N.J., spent a good chunk of May 16 filming a locally grown-themed television commercial for retailer Shop Rite.
The ad, which promotes the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh program, was a first for Formisano Farms. It featured Formisano, other growers and a tractor, with fields serving as a background.
Formisano said the ad shows the continuing momentum of the locally grown movement, and he continues to see more retailers supporting Jersey Fresh and other locally grown programs.
“It’s a good thing for local growers,” he said.
Nardelli Bros Inc., Cedarville, N.J., is a founding member of Jersey Fresh, a pioneering state-wide program that promotes locally grown produce.
“It’s increased awareness to make local and know-your-farmer popular,” president Bill Nardelli said. “Retailers are sourcing much more locally grown now.”
Definitions of “local” continue to be up for debate, Nardelli said.
It doesn’t take long to get the company’s vegetables to New York, Pennsylvania or Connecticut, packaged with a label that says “Jersey Fresh” and “Fresher by Miles” — Nardelli Bros.’ longtime brand, he said.
Nardelli considers that local.
“We emphasize to our customers that it’s not a four-day ride (from the West Coast),” he said.
Another question about local that generates debate — and considerably more heat — is what food safety standards small growers should be held to, and whether their fruits and vegetables are as safe as those grown by big producers.
Nardelli is all for small farmers, but he’s unequivocal in his support for holding them to the same standards.
“The fact is that someone who ships 100 boxes can make people just as sick as someone who ships thousands of boxes,” he said. “Whether it’s a farm market or a large corporation, they need to adhere to a good food safety program.”
Achieving that goal doesn’t have to be as hard as some small producers make it out to be, Nardelli said.
“Some small farmers are intimidated, but if it’s implemented properly, it’s no more than good common sense and cleanliness,” he said.
One of the effects of the locally grown boom has been diversification of growers’ offerings for farmers markets — heirloom tomatoes and colored bell peppers being two of the big examples, said Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton.
“(Local) has been one of the bigger shifts in agriculture in the past 10 years,” he said. “There’s a lot of support for community markets.”
Cedarville, N.J.-based Eastern Fresh Growers Inc.’s distribution net extends well beyond most boundaries of “locally grown,” said Tom Sheppard, the company’s president.
“Our volume is such that we can’t count on locally grown demand” alone for the company’s success, Sheppard said.
But Eastern Fresh, like all New Jersey fruit and vegetable grower-shippers, does benefit from the local trend. Take asparagus, for instance, Sheppard said.
“Jersey asparagus has a real good reputation,” he said. “People look for it.”