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The Pick-Your-Own State

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Peter and Anna Hoogterp, and the apples at Wightman's Farm (Photo by Maria Hoogterp)

August is when the Garden State really lives up to its nickname. Tomatoes, corn, peaches, blueberries, raspberries and apples so good that you will forget it is possible to grow them any place else.

There are lots of farms still left all over New Jersey that will let you pick all of these things and more. Tracy Bermeo, MyVeronaNJ’s expert on living in Verona with young kids, goes to Alstede Farms, a u-pick destination that’s about an hour from Verona. Maria Hoogterp, a Laning mom who’s one of our regular readers, likes Donaldson Farms and Wightman’s Farms. I favor Melick’s Town Farm and Peaceful Valley Orchards in Hunterdon County and, up near Blairstown in Warren County, Race Farms and Longmeadow Farm.

Why pick: Why would any sensible person stand in the hot sun for an hour or more when an air-conditioned supermarket is nearby? One word: taste. The fresher your fruits and vegetables are, the better they taste. Plus, many u-pick farms have fruits and vegetables you’ll never see in any store: Kimball’s Farm in Warren County grows 100 kinds of hot peppers; Melick’s has 30 varieties of white and yellow peaches.

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Where to pick: The New Jersey Department of Agriculture maintains a county-by-county list of pick-your-own farms. Whether you’re up at High Point or down the shore, there’s likely to be a farm nearby.

When to pick: Strawberries and tomatoes may be in the supermarket all year, but they are definitely not in Jersey fields for that long. Picking your own is a great way to teach the kids about the seasonality of food. Every u-pick farm has a list of what’s growing when and most now post them to their Web site.

What to pick: Farms don’t let you into a field until the produce there is ready to pick, but not everything in every “ready” field will be ready. Produce should be the full color it is going to be (red, not green tomatoes); peaches should just give a bit. Nothing should be bruised or bitten. Peaches and tomatoes are the easiest things for little kids to pick because they grow close to the ground.

How to pick: Respectfully. Follow the farm’s directions, stay only in the open fields and keep the sampling to a minimum as you pick. Everything you taste is one less fruit or vegetable that that farmer will have to sell at market. The farms generally give you a basket to put your produce in as you pick and many have hay wagons that circle their fields to bring you and your bounty back to the cash register. Wear a hat, and, if picking berries, long sleeves to guard against the prickly stems. And if you get carried away and pick 60 pounds of apples, stay calm: We’ll have a story soon on canning, freezing and drying.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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