Beginning this weekend and for a few short weeks New Jersey will once again live up to its “Garden State” tag line. The Montclair Farmers’ Market re-opens on Saturday for its 18th season. It is the first of the 15 farmers’ markets in Essex County to open; Millburn and Maplewood will be next in mid-June; Caldwell opens on June 24. (The full list of all farmers’ markets in our area is here.)
If you haven’t shopped a farmers’ market before, it is a great way to get introduced to some really great food that is being produced very close to Verona, from bread and honey to vegetables, cheese, seafood, beef, pork and poultry. Most farmers’ markets operate just one day a week–Saturday in Montclair, Thursday in Bloomfield, Friday in Caldwell–for only a few hours. On the plus side, you get to meet and talk to the people who produce your food and you get the food within an hour or two of it leaving the farm or the dock. Yes, you’ll pay a bit more than in the supermarket or big-box store but trust me, you can’t get food as good in either location.
If you’ve done the farmers’ market thing for a few years, you may be ready for the next step: community-supported agriculture. In a CSA, you invest in a share of a farm’s output, almost the way you buy a share in a company because you pay at the start of the season for food that will be delivered over several weeks. This gives the farmer working capital without a stack of paperwork at the bank. In addition, many CSA farms are organic or practice very earth-friendly farming, a plus if you want to keep pesticides and genetically modified crops out of your diet.
One CSA that several Verona families have participated in over the years still has shares available for this year. There’s also a brand new CSA coming to the Essex Environmental Center in Roseland that Verona families can join.
The Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm is a certified organic farm has operated sine 1988 on land owned by the same nuns who run Caldwell College. It has grown to the point where it operates both a summer and winter CSA and a full-year membership that covers both. There are still openings in this summer’s CSA, which runs from May through November. The price for a Genesis family share is $1,239, which seems high until you consider that that’s for seven months of local produce (a single share is $657). The family share price works out to a touch over $44 a week, which is probably what you are spending on supermarket stuff now. And from what I’ve heard (Verona members you can chime in here), the Genesis shares are very generous. The one drawback to Genesis, however, is that it does not deliver to Verona–you have to drive to the farm, in Blairstown, to pick up. The Genesis members I’ve talked to say they work out a car-pooling system so that any one member is only going west every few weeks.
All the information on Genesis is here. Scroll down to the “Shareholder Information” link in the middle of the page for pricing. You pay for your share in installments, so not every penny is due when you join.
If driving to Blairstown is not your thing, you might want to consider a new, multipart CSA that is delivering to Roseland this summer. The West Essex CSA will be at the Essex County Environmental Center on Eagle Rock Avenue every other Tuesday afternoon from June 21 through November 15. And unlike Genesis, it will include vegetables, fruit and protein. The organizers are bringing in a vegetable CSA from Cedar Creek Farms, a fruit CSA from Tree-Licious Orchards (if you have not had their sugar plums you are missing a major life experience) and eggs, cheese, chickens and yogurt from Havenwod Farms. Each of the components is a separate subscription, so you can buy all vegetables (12 deliveries for $250), all fruit (12 deliveries for $185) or a la carte for the items from Havenwood. There’s a nominal $25 organizational fee.
Ken Hoffman, the owner of Havenwood, provides protein to the Westfield Area and Bloomfield-Montclair CSAs and has showcased his eggs, chickens, and pork at the Environmental Center’s Oktoberfest. (Full disclosure: I discovered Ken at one of those fairs and now do some work on his Web site.) Like the others, he farms in New Jersey, just about an hour’s drive from Verona.