Fresh Wave purchasing director Ralph Donato, New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher and Consalo Family Farms produce operations vice president Chelsea Consalo inspect leeks at a 2019 season launch celebration. ( Amy Sowder )

VINELAND, N.J. — About 40 growers, distributors and local officials gathered Monday at Fresh Wave’s facility at the Vineland Produce Market to celebrate the start of peak season.

New Jersey's produce season can start as early as April, running all the way through the first freeze in December.

State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher kicked off the season by highlighting one of New Jersey’s early vegetables: asparagus.

In 2018, New Jersey was fourth in asparagus production in the U.S. with an $11.5 million farm gate value, Fisher said. Overall production value of fruits and vegetables in 2018 was $337 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state agriculture review of New Jersey.

“We grow 100 varieties of different crops, which when you think about it, as the most densely populated state in the U.S. … that’s pretty amazing,” Fisher said.

Kale, lettuce, radishes and spinach are also early season vegetables that are available daily at this time. In about two weeks, beets and strawberries will be widely available.

“I see radishes here,” said Denny Doyle, chairman of the New Jersey Blueberry Advisory Council, Hammonton, as he pointed to the Consalo Family Farms display beside the podium. He laughed: “And we’re going to have blueberries of this size. This year is going to be great.”

New Jersey is a veteran of promoting its state-grown produce. Launched in the late 1980s, the Jersey Fresh logo is the first and longest-running state produce brand in the U.S. Growers certified by the program get to use the label and other marketing tools to help sell their produce.

After the official talks ended, the crowd dispersed and Fisher joined a facility tour led by Ralph Donato, director of purchasing for Fresh Wave, and Chelsea Consalo, vice president of produce operations. Along with her brother A.J., Chelsea Consalo is the fourth generation working at Consalo Family Farms, their growing operation, and Fresh Wave, their distribution operation. Their father, Skip Consolo, heads the two companies.

The small tour group stopped to examine the traceability label on a Fresh Wave box of romaine lettuce, which shows the pack date, the lot of the farm and the region where it was grown. Traceability and food safety have long been a top priority in New Jersey, Fisher said.

“People say they want to know where their food comes from, where it’s grown, who’s growing it. It’s your friends and neighbors, the families in the region that are growing these farm products and then shipping it out,” Fisher said.

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